Science Fiction Brewed Fresh Daily

It’s September…

…so it’s time for my annual Worldcon/Hugo rant.

I believe that the time has come for us to consider, like it or not, the need for changing the name of the World Science Fiction Convention to something like the World Speculative Fiction Convention, the World Convention for Fantastic Literature, the (to paraphrase Locus’ cover) World Convention of Science Fiction & Fantasy, or something equally as amorphous as the recent criteria for nominating and dispensing the Hugo Awards.

First, let me say that I am not a literary bigot. I’m not claiming that fantasy is, in any way, a literary product inferior to science fiction. About 25% of my fiction reading consists of fantasy, but, when I nominate work for the Hugo Awards, or vote for a nominated work, it would never occur to me to consider fantasy as an option. There is already a World Fantasy Convention and a World Fantasy Award, and they don’t consider science fiction to be eligible. Fantasy has a palpably different internal structure and tradition than science fiction, and its increasingly common inclusion on Hugo ballots is like allowing wolves to compete in an AKC competition; it skews the judging criteria. To drag a bad analogy farther down the road, the inclusion of YA work (fantasy or SF) on Hugo ballots is like tossing puppies into that same competition; puppies are sometimes irresistibly cuter than adult dogs. Lest the dozen or so people who will read this post think I’m ranting about occasional, statistically insignificant aberrations from the putative norm, let me run some numbers here. In the years spanning 1990 -1999 there were ten Hugos for best novel awarded to 10 books that were inarguably science fiction. There were no “borderline” (slipstream, AH, etc.) novels receiving the Best Novel award; each book was straight-up SF. In the following decade, 2000-2009, the ten awards for best novel break down as follows:

Fantasy — 5
Science Fiction — 4
Difficult to categorize — 1 (Michael Chabon’s THE YIDDISH POLICEMAN’S BALL, which is probably closest in category to Alternate History, which, by association, is most often grandfathered into science fiction, so, if pressed, I’d probably allow that the ten awards split 5:5)

There are probably some people who would argue that one of the awarded fantasy novels, Susanna Clarke’s JONATHON STRANGE & DR NORRELL is also AH. To them I say — if your only reason in writing an alternate history is to introduce magic, Faerie and dragons into Dickensian England then — well, I’m just sayin’.

Additionally, two of the five fantasy books that won the best novel award during the 00s were YA works, so the nominating and voting segments of fandom announced that the most prestigious fan award for science fiction, i.e. the best the genre had to offer, would be bestowed upon a pair of fantasy novels written for adolescents.

In the September, 2009 edition of LOCUS, there are 23 novels reviewed. Seventeen are fantasy.

In the most recent SFBC mailing, fantasy titles outnumber SF titles 2:1. In some mailings, recently, the ratio has been as high as 3:1.

I’m aware of the market forces at work in the publishing industry, and I read the publishing numbers each year. I’m aware of the impact that HP had on YA and, by extension, the already burgeoning fantasy category in general. I also know that the LOTR movie franchise certainly didn’t hurt the consolatory fantasy market. Fantasy is more lucrative than SF at every level from the author up, at the moment, and publishers active in this category won’t be satisfied until every potential reader on the planet is mired, hip-deep, in at least one interminable consolatory fantasy series. I also know that the group of people who nominate and vote for the Hugos each year is probably largely static, and mostly 30-60 years old. And let’s be honest, today’s SF is not your father’s SF — or even your younger self’s SF. It’s darker, meaner, morally ambiguous, considerably more complex, (and frankly, better written), as a rule, than the more optimistic sensawunda-fests that we middle-aged fans remember from our youth. Personally, I celebrate the changes that have occurred in SF literature over the years, but I have a number of friends around my age who would rather retreat into the work of past decades, or, alternately, cross over into the relatively safe territory of fantasy, particularly high or consolatory fantasy, where the rules are fairly predictable and the hobbits usually win. This crossover has been made particularly easy by authors, largely known for writing SF, who have transitioned into writing fantasy occasionally or exclusively. Additionally, some of these same people seem to prefer the relative simplicity of YA work, which I understand is read more by adults than by its target market. I do believe that YA work should be included in consideration for Hugo awards, but I would prefer to see it have its own category.

But, getting back to the point — whether Wolrdcon needs to change its mission statement as a convention dedicated to the literature of science fiction to include fantastic fiction in general — in my opinion, this is a matter of the tail wagging the dog. SF is definitely a subset of fantasy, but it’s my particular, favorite subset. Even though the number of SF titles, as a percentage of all titles published in the U.S. and U.K. has been in a bumpy but general decline over the past few years, there remain far more SF titles published each year than any one individual could ever hope to assimilate over the same period of time. I’ve been told by several older fans and writers who attended Worldcons in the 1950s and 1960s that a dedicated reader could cover almost everything published each year before the convention, and those conventions were legendary. Today there is an exponentially larger amount of genre fiction and media for a yearly convention to draw upon.

And it should be dedicated to science fiction.

Posted in Books & Authors September 17th, 2009 by Shadow
26 comments

26 Comments

  1. Went to the bookstore the other day and yes Fantasy has ate the SF shelves. I too read Fantasy as well, but this is getting somewhat overkill. I wish they’d separate the two so at least I could find SF. At any rate friend Allen Steele had a couple I could buy. And so far we can count on him to hold up a very hard SF flag. I suppose I should make it to the chats more often and find out who else still writes SF.

    Comment by Marv Verm — September 17, 2009 @ 10:29 am

  2. You are of course welcome, like every member of Worldcon, to come to the WSFS Business Meeting and propose a name change. But naturally you would have to convince a majority of the attendees at two consecutive Worldcons to agree to the change.

    The Hugo Awards are already for works of science fiction and fantasy. It says so right in their definition, and right on the ballot, and on the Hugo Awards FAQ. This isn’t a recent change. The awards have always been for SF and F, from the first time they had written rules. It’s the Worldcon that is the broad-based event, including fantasy within the field of science fiction. It’s the smaller, more specialized events like the World Fantasy Convention that have more limited, narrow views.

    So if you really think this is an important distinction, good luck convincing a majority of the members of the Worldcon Business Meeting to vote for it. I suggest, however, that you’ll have about the same amount of luck as the people who keep saying that we should strike out “Best” from the category titles and insert “Most Popular.”

    Comment by Kevin Standlee — September 17, 2009 @ 11:04 am

  3. Marv,

    There’s still plenty of SF out there, and plenty of writers producing it. Bookstores have necessarily bought into the overall marketing strategy that favors fantasy at this time, so you’ll have better luck searching out and buying SF online unless you have a specialty bookstore nearby. This might be a cyclical thing. I remember that, in the 60s and early 70s, publishers considered fantasy dead in the water, and Ballantine almost single-handedly dragged it back into the light. Fantasy may, eventually, suffer from overexposure, but I’m not sure that SF will ever regain its percentage share of the marketplace, since the generations of focused fans of SF literature coming along behind us get smaller and smaller. Author crossover affects this, too. Some SF authors have become switch hitters and others have become wholesale converts to the fantasy flag. I can’t really argue with that, since writing fantasy is currently more lucrative, and writing fiction is their meal ticket. I do know of two writers, though, whose bibliographies were wholly SF to date, but had it *strongly* suggested to them by their publishers that their next contract novel be a fantasy. Marketing surely influences the books we read, but it’s not always a qualitative process.

    Comment by Shadow — September 17, 2009 @ 1:23 pm

  4. This conversation seems to assume that there’s a bright-line distinction between “science fiction” and “fantasy,” and that everyone can look at every single written work and say, without exception, “This work is SF, that one is fantasy, and that one is neither.” This is a false assumption. SF/F are a continuum, with no single objective defining characteristic. The typical example of this inability to draw hard-and-fast lines is The Dragonriders of Pern.

    Comment by Kevin Standlee — September 17, 2009 @ 1:46 pm

  5. Heh. Kevin, you need to attend our nightly SF chats here on the site. One of our perennial topics is the SF/F dividing line.

    Comment by Chip — September 17, 2009 @ 2:45 pm

  6. Kevin,

    Thanks for your comments.

    The summation of my original comment renders the first paragraph as sarcasm, so I won’t be petitioning the WSFS to change its name anytime soon. Nor will I be joining those people rightly attempting to distinguish the difference between “best” and “most popular” as a portion of the award title. If I were to propose a change in the award title, it would probably look more like: “THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, Neil Gaiman — Best Novel as determined by 82 first-place nominations and 264 first-place votes out of a total of 1074 valid votes by fans willing to pony up at least $50.00 for the privilege of having their opinions heard” Because with such an overwhelming landslide of objective support, it’s easy to see why this Young Adult fantasy novel beat out the other 4 nominated science fiction novels. I’m not going to pull a Kanye West here and announce my preference, but there was some strong competition this year. Sarcasm aside, I do believe that there are structural and textural differences between SF and fantasy that make it extremely difficult to judge them under identical criteria. It’s like offering an award for the best apple or orange. If fantasy is the orange, did this year’s Best Novel award accrue to tGB because it’s the least apple-like, or the most orange-like of the nominees, since it’s the only orange under consideration? I’m not terribly upset about fantasy work winning the Hugo occasionally. If the work is so resplendently and radiantly orange-like that the book is the reader’s portal to the platonic orange, then it should certainly win with overwhelming acclamation, and its superiority should be visible to anyone who reads it. But, during the 6 instances in which a fantasy work took the Hugo for best novel during the past decade, the World Fantasy Award has only concurred with the Hugo selection twice.

    Your second comment speaks to the differences between fantasy and science fiction. Since there have been literary genres, there has been hybrid fiction; SF/Thriller, SF/Noir, SF/Police Procedural, SF/Western, SF/Mystery, SF/Horror, and SF/Fantasy (common enough to have spawned the “science fantasy” designation amongst publishers in decades past). Hybridization implies at least two discrete forms in combination. Again, I’m all for the politics of inclusion, and an unlimited palette is certainly beneficial to writers, but SF and fantasy are not the same color on that palette. You indicate that there is no discernible border between the two fictional forms, but publishers don’t seem to share that opinion. They aim each book at the market it would seem to fit the best. You mention Pern as an example of blurring the lines, and Pern has a soft, chewy SF center clad in medieval plate armor, but there are far more complex , conscious hybrids, like Justina Robson’s Quantum Gravity series, through which her publisher hopes to access both genre markets, but they *are* hybrids, not some independently fertile mutation…and as I said, hybridization implies the blending of at least two discrete forms. There is a difference. You can mix blue and red to make shades of purple, but blue and red remain separate colors.

    I’ve ranted long enough now that the adrenalin has worn off. I’m not really sure why the philosophical purity of the Hugo awards concerns me that much, anyway. Its importance outside of organized fandom has diminished, anyway. It’s not terribly useful in marketing fantasy, and it has lost much of its cachet in marketing SF, since it’s recently been diluted by a seeming preference for fantasy. I don’t really expect anything to change on that front. I just sometimes feel the need to wake up and shout about something.

    Comment by Shadow — September 17, 2009 @ 4:46 pm

  7. Sounds to me that your rant boils down to, “The voters are stupid and won’t give awards to the things that I personally like, so I’m going to say the grapes were sour anyway.”

    Comment by Kevin Standlee — September 17, 2009 @ 6:01 pm

  8. There is a difference. You can mix blue and red to make shades of purple, but blue and red remain separate colors.

    Yes, but that’s only because extreme cases are always easy to tell apart. Edges are not. Blue and Red are at opposite extremes, so of course they’re pretty easy to distinguish, like The Lord of the Rings and Ringworld. Edge cases like The Dragonriders of Pern are like the difference between red and orange. Where does “red” end and “orange” begin? Any particular decision is going to be subjective. SF and fantasy are adjacent to each other, and therefore any particular division is individual and subjective. What you point at and say “fantasy” is possibly going to be “science fiction” to someone else.

    Comment by Kevin Standlee — September 17, 2009 @ 6:09 pm

  9. I would hardly introduce the word “stupid” into a discussion of Hugo awards voters, since I’m frequently one myself and, using Australian ballot rules, there has never been anything close to a simple majority, or even a plurality, of votes cast for a fantasy entry. I *am*, however, pointing to a phenomenon that I believe represents a fundamental shift in the way genre is viewed by both voters and nominators for the Hugos. In the 55 year history of the Hugo awards between 1955 and 1999, there were no Best Novel titles awarded to a fantasy novel, and the same period saw only the rarest glimpse of a nomination for a fantasy novel. In the 10 years spanning 2000-2009, 5 (arguably 6) fantasy novels have garnered Best Novel awards. If you see nothing unusual about the current trend, then we really have nothing left to discuss. During most of the 55 years preceding 2000, fantasy novels were either informally or formally (once the rules were posted) eligible for nomination. Inclusion is good. It makes us, as fans, seem egalitarian. In my experience, though, fans are anything *but* egalitarian. We treasure our strong opinions and defend them rigorously, almost to the point of solipsism. So, maybe we actually *are* becoming tolerant and inclusive. This might be a good thing, or it might mean that we’re reading what we’re told by publishers to read, since over the decade in which this change has come about, fantasy has collapsed of its own weight atop the greater speculative spectrum. Either way, we might have to change the text on our business cards.

    Regarding the eternal debate over what constitutes SF and why it differs from fantasy, you seem to believe that most literature operates in grayscale and not in black and white. While I generally agree with that, there are certain larger generalized categories which we establish to make communication easier. In fandom, I think that SF and fantasy are among those generalized categories. I can only draw upon my own experience for opinions regarding this, but, in the 16 years I’ve been hosting moderated SF topic chats at various places online from OMNI to the OWC, during the course of 1000+ such live events the topic of “SF v. Fantasy” been the main event at least 80 times. The thing that always surprises me, when doing this topic, is not the disagreement that I would expect this subject to engender, but, rather, the remarkable similarities in opinions among diverse guests over what does and does not constitute either genre.

    Comment by Shadow — September 17, 2009 @ 7:43 pm

  10. using Australian ballot rules, there has never been anything close to a simple majority, or even a plurality, of votes cast for a fantasy entry.

    Huh? Wouldn’t you consider The Graveyard Book to be fantasy? It received a plurality of first-ballot votes in this year’s Hugo Award balloting, with 264 votes (the next-highest candidate had 244). So in this particular case, even if we used “first-past-the-post” (plurality) voting, it would have won this year.

    (Note that it’s common for the first-ballot leader to win, but not inevitable. For example, in Best Pro Artist, John Picacio had the plurality of first ballot votes (148), but came second to Donato Giancola, who was four votes behind John on the first ballot. Even more remarkably, Weird Tales was third after the first round and still won, while Locus, which led after the first round, eventually finished fourth.)

    In the 55 year history of the Hugo awards between 1955 and 1999, there were no Best Novel titles awarded to a fantasy novel,…

    That depends on who you ask. I’ve heard that Hugo Gernsback himself said that he though most of the novels that won weren’t what he considered proper science fiction. It’s all subjective, after all. But I take your point.

    I agree that it’s a shift in the way voters and nominators view the awards. The Hugo Award reflects the attitudes of the members of the Worldcon. People change their minds over time, after all.

    Comment by Kevin Standlee — September 17, 2009 @ 8:11 pm

  11. Darn, didn’t close the blockquote properly. Wish there was a preview function.

    Comment by Kevin Standlee — September 17, 2009 @ 8:12 pm

  12. Kevin, I know you have a dog in this fight, and I respect your opinion, but a couple of your comments up there sound a little more like, “How dare you attack my convention?!?!?” than an actual rebuttal of Shadow’s points.

    I can add my own small note to the debate in suggesting that SF is still less legitimate a genre in the minds of the public at large than more mainstream genera, and when we award one of our highest honors to a YA fantasy novel I can’t help but picture the reading public going, “Harry Potter? Really? That’s what the best SF is? I’ll pass.”

    Comment by Chip — September 17, 2009 @ 8:32 pm

  13. Kevin, I know you have a dog in this fight, and I respect your opinion, but a couple of your comments up there sound a little more like, “How dare you attack my convention?!?!?” than an actual rebuttal of Shadow’s points.

    My rebuttal is that the argument that “this award is voted on by a tiny number of people” is equivalent to the people who lose a real-world election saying, “That’s only because only 22% of the eligible electorate turned out to vote! If only more people had voted, my side would have won, you just mark my words!” It’s not really a valid argument. It’s sour grapes.

    I actually have no problem with arguments that run along the lines of “I don’t agree with the tastes of the [other] voters.” That’s life. What does irritate me is people who, when faced with an electorate that doesn’t vote their way, attack the legitimacy of the system. We see this in the real world, too — the “birthers” are merely the most recent manifestation of this in Presidential politics. “My guy didn’t win, so the system must be flawed/corrupt!”

    The solution to losing elections is to try and persuade more people to vote your way. Sometimes you can do that. Sometimes you can’t. I know this myself from having won both losing and winning campaigns. Just because you lose doesn’t mean that the system is corrupt.

    Comment by Kevin Standlee — September 17, 2009 @ 8:39 pm

  14. What you mean by “science fiction”?

    Comment by Michael Walsh — September 17, 2009 @ 10:34 pm

  15. What is Science Fiction? In my mind it comes to this simple test. Waving a wand, without speaking a word, to open doors or evaporate adversaries, that is science fiction. Waving a wand and uttering incantations to change your adversary into a toad, that is fantasy.

    Comment by Araius — September 17, 2009 @ 11:36 pm

  16. What does irritate me is people who, when faced with an electorate that doesn’t vote their way, attack the legitimacy of the system.

    Did someone ‘attack’ the legitimacy of the system? I have to admit that I looked back over the thread so far and didn’t see any evidence for your claim. Do you normally counter the opinions of others by marginalizing them with false claims of fomenting revolution? I did mention that the criteria for nominating and dispensing Hugo awards was amorphous, and perhaps I should have said “unspecific” regarding genre preference, and I did reference the number of nominations, first place votes and total votes for this year’s Best Novel award, but this is public knowledge and I drew no direct conclusions from the information, but I’m having a tough time otherwise finding the lunatic anarchist in my comments so far. I’m assuming that your reference to “the system” indicates the system of Hugo nominations and voting, and not, say — life in general, or the way the BCS determines the NCAA football champions, in which case the system is *the* system. It works the same way this decade as it did in the last, irrespective of general presumptions of orthodoxy. I wrote an opinion post lamenting the impending demise of what many fans construed, or continue to construe today as an unspoken genre orthodoxy. I sarcastically suggested that the convention, if not the society, change its name to reflect the recent de-emphasis of science fiction in favor of fantasy, as translated through the filter of the convention’s highest award. If my sarcasm offended you, I apologize. I know that changes in verbiage can be very disconcerting to some people — but…oh, wait…

    …the Hugo Award’s official name is “Hugo Award,” as WSFS dropped “Science Fiction Achievement Award” as the official name in the 1990s. (One vestigial reference remains in the WSFS Constitution as a sop to people who were unhappy at WSFS officially recognizing reality.)
    — Kevin Standlee: Fandom Is My Way of Life
    Thursday, September 17th, 2009

    BTW, you were quite right; tGB did indeed receive a plurality of 20 votes over ANATHEM. I posted the numbers myself earlier in the thread. I’m sure the mental error is somehow related to my inability to recognize official reality.

    Comment by Shadow — September 17, 2009 @ 11:56 pm

  17. Did someone ‘attack’ the legitimacy of the system?

    Of course so: Shadow’s sarcastic remarks @6 are an obvious complaint about legitimacy, just as complaints that whatever candidate you didn’t like (if s/he won) isn’t legitimate because only a small number of actually eligible voters cast ballots. It’s a classic complaint of any losing candidate. That doesn’t mean it’s a good argument.

    I’m having a tough time otherwise finding the lunatic anarchist in my comments so far

    Nor am I calling you a lunatic anarchist. But I suggest that if the Hugo Award winners happened to be whoever you picked, you wouldn’t even be raising any of the points you made, since in that case you’d consider the electorate to be Right and Just and Intelligent.

    I did mention that the criteria for nominating and dispensing Hugo awards was amorphous, and perhaps I should have said “unspecific” regarding genre preference….

    Except that it is neither amorphous on unspecific. How much clearer can “…Hugo Awards are given for work in the field of science fiction or fantasy appearing for the first time during the previous calendar year” be?

    Comment by Kevin Standlee — September 18, 2009 @ 12:30 am

  18. I know that changes in verbiage can be very disconcerting to some people….

    Incidentally, the “officially recognizing reality” to which I referred was not (as you may think) reflecting some official recognition that “fantasy is now eligible but wasn’t before.” The reality here was that the US Patent and Trademark Office refused a service mark on the term “Science Fiction Achievement Award,” which meant that WSFS couldn’t legally protect the term. (USPTO said that “Science Fiction Achievement Award” was “too generic.”) “Hugo Award,” on the other hand, is a registered service mark of the World Science Fiction Society.

    Comment by Kevin Standlee — September 18, 2009 @ 2:28 am

  19. Of course so: Shadow’s sarcastic remarks @6 are an obvious complaint about legitimacy,

    I’ll assume that you’re referring to this comment…

    “If I were to propose a change in the award title, it would probably look more like: “THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, Neil Gaiman — Best Novel as determined by 82 first-place nominations and 264 first-place votes out of a total of 1074 valid votes by fans willing to pony up at least $50.00 for the privilege of having their opinions heard” Because with such an overwhelming landslide of objective support, it’s easy to see why this Young Adult fantasy novel beat out the other 4 nominated science fiction novels.”

    …since it’s the only intentional sarcasm in #6. Do you always conflate sarcasm with attack? Are the numbers wrong? The number of eligible votes seems roughly consistent with recent North American events. I have no problem with the mechanics of the ballot system as it stands, and the system isn’t responsible for the number of voters who use it. The same system has produced results that I variably have liked or disliked for many years, whether I was involved in the process or not. Those likes and dislikes constitute “opinions”, not “attacks”. Wait — I just noticed that you downgraded “attack” to “complaint”. Is this a mistake, or are you de-escalating your terminology?

    But I suggest that if the Hugo Award winners happened to be whoever you picked, you wouldn’t even be raising any of the points you made, since in that case you’d consider the electorate to be Right and Just and Intelligent.

    And this makes me different from any other human being on the planet…how? BTW, I used “Lunatic Anarchist” because it’s a more cheerful, ebullient image than your somewhat tasteless comparison of myself to the “birthers” with the implied connotation of ignorant denial.

    As far as the Hugo criteria being “unspecific”, I meant that it was unspecific in not limiting nominations to a single genre. That would be my preference, as I’m sure you’ve deduced. However, it *is* a preference, not an attack on the status quo. Have you ever felt that you’d prefer to have more money, or more happiness? Should I construe that preference as an attack on western capitalism or American social values? It’s an opinion. Deal with it. You never know, maybe I’ll buy into the WSFS official reality someday.

    Comment by Shadow — September 18, 2009 @ 2:37 am

  20. Is this a mistake, or are you de-escalating your terminology?

    I’m sorry that you’re reading more into my exact words used than I intended. I was not making particularly fine distinctions of meaning, but you seem to be reading them that way. And yes, I tend to read sarcasm as antagonistic.

    I meant that it was unspecific in not limiting nominations to a single genre. That would be my preference, as I’m sure you’ve deduced.

    Maybe I’m not being clear: Who Decides?

    Postulate for a moment that we strike the words “and fantasy” from the definition of the Hugo Award. The next year, voters overwhelmingly still nominate a work that you personally think is fantasy. Who should be deciding “this work may be popular with the voters, but it’s not really science fiction, so it’s disqualified.”

    If you answered, “The Administrator,” I’d like to remind you that every time in the past twenty years that a Hugo Award Administrator has disqualified a work on content grounds (as opposed to technical ones like length or date of publication), the WSFS Business Meeting has turned around and modified the rules in such a way that effectively told that administrator, “You were wrong, and we’re changing the rules so you’re not allowed to ever make that decision again.” WSFS voters on the whole detest “activist administrators,” for reasons that Cheryl Morgan recently discussed.

    The people who make an effort to stay involved with the WSFS rule-making process have, on the whole, sent a very strong message to Hugo Award Administrators: Vox populi vox Dei (“The voice of the people is the voice of God”) Administrators are highly reluctant to ever rule a work off the ballot except for the most narrow of technical reasons.

    Trying to narrow the genre definition wouldn’t work, especially if an administrator DQ’d a work that s/he thought was fantasy but that other people thought was science fiction. The division between the two is too subjective and blurry to be able to make decisions akin to “how long was the work” and “when was it published.”

    And as far as “official reality” goes, go read my clarification. If it weren’t for USPTO denying the service mark registration, it’s likely that the technically official name of the Hugo Award would still be “Science Fiction Achievement Award,” and even after the Mark Protection Committee explained that there was no point in keeping the old name because we couldn’t protect its use, there were still people who wanted the “traditional name.”

    Comment by Kevin Standlee — September 18, 2009 @ 2:54 am

  21. “What is Science Fiction? In my mind it comes to this simple test. Waving a wand, without speaking a word, to open doors or evaporate adversaries, that is science fiction. Waving a wand and uttering incantations to change your adversary into a toad, that is fantasy.”

    Easily disposed of by this quote from a noted SF author: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

    Here, let me help you find a definition of science fiction: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Definitions_of_science_fiction . Have fun!

    Comment by Michael Walsh — September 18, 2009 @ 9:32 am

  22. I had the same feeling as what Chip earlier stated: “…when we award one of our highest honors to a YA fantasy novel I can’t help but picture the reading public going, “Harry Potter? Really? That’s what the best SF is? I’ll pass.”” It is the flying broom, ladies and gentlemen, which shouldn’t labelled as best SF at all. Dan Simmons’ flying carpet in HYPERION is truly Science Fiction with navigational patterns woven into its cloth. If Harry’s broom had a smattering of technical nodes, maybe we can picture HP in that murky realm of “speculative science fantasy”. Compare Elizabeth Hand’s WINTERLONG with Rowling’s Potter. Hand is a far better writer and WINTERLONG is far closer to science fiction and more deserving of a Hugo than HP.

    Comment by Araius — September 18, 2009 @ 6:53 pm

  23. Nerd fight!

    Comment by zyxt — September 19, 2009 @ 4:11 pm

  24. Dadgummit, my ‘evil wicked grin’ tag dinna show in mah last comment.

    Comment by zyxt — September 19, 2009 @ 4:13 pm

  25. “The awards have always been for SF and F, from the first time they had written rules.”

    In 1958, the Best Short Story went to “Or All the Seas with Oysters” by Avram Davidson. Best Professional Magazine
    Winner: The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction ed. by Anthony Boucher

    1959: Best Short Story
    Winner: “That Hell-Bound Train” by Robert Bloch [F&SF Sep 1958]

    Best Professional Magazine
    Winner: The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction ed. by Anthony Boucher and Robert P. Mills

    I won’t run through the rest of the nominees and winners, but the Hugo has always gone to both fantasy and sf since the awards for 1957 were given in 1958.

    The Hugos were only institutionalized when given for the second time, in 1956.

    Finally, there has never, ever, ever been a consensus on what constitutes “science fiction.”

    Thus, it’s quite impossible to give out an award that goes only to “science fiction,” unless you wish to engage in a tautological circle of personal preference.

    There’s really not much more that needs to be said, is there?

    Comment by Gary Farber — September 20, 2009 @ 6:49 pm

  26. OK went to the book store tonight. And even worse than wishing they’d separate everything somewhat is that the SF/Fantasy area has shrunk to less than half the area it had been in before. And no they haven’t done fewer cover facings…. Now I’m really bummed. I suppose I should have checked out my other favorite area the horror section but didn’t as I didn’t feel I could deal with it shrinking too. On the bright side I did find my copy of Analog I’d went it to buy anyway.

    Comment by Marv Verm — November 26, 2009 @ 4:02 am

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