Saturday, July 20, 2013

Literary Merit, Altruism, and Friendship

The fast approaching close of the Hugo ballot marks the end of the speculative fiction awards season after recently passed the Seiun and Nebula ballots, not to mention the other seven major awards.  It is no surprise that the lists of finalists include many of the same works.  It is an honor to be on any of these ballots and and achievement to be a finalist.

It is no small feat to keep up with the genre, not when hundreds of new books are produced each year, print magazines arrive daily, and the e-publications proliferate like a viral plague. There are only so many hours in the day and, for the working writer, time taken to read anything detracts from their writing time. One must ignore the cries of children and abandoned friends if they are ever to make even a small dent in their pile of books to be read.  Worse, all your writer friends send you books, lovingly autographed (which makes them unacceptable as donations to the local library) which accrue to the already unread pile.  Even with the best of intentions no one can encompass or even come close to reading the entire output.

As an eligible and reasonably conscientious voter my aim is always to select the best work of genre fiction based on literary merit, inventiveness, and that nebulous "sens-a-wunda" that imbue the finest speculative fiction. Knowing how difficult it is to create stories my admiration for a skillfully produced work demands recognition.

I read what I can, finish a few books a month, and strive to stay current on magazines, but it's a losing battle. As a result, when the ballots arrive, I look at the finalists and try to find something I might have read and frequently find one or two.  This induced guilt sets up a frantic effort to read all of the finalists before the ballot closes, searching through the pile to find those that appeared in yet unread magazine and lacking that, obtaining copies elsewhere. The novels are daunting to complete so I usually attempt to read at least a quarter of the way each through before moving to the next, promising myself I will later return to finish that book, which results in so many books with slips of paper marking my place.

Comes the time to vote and I find myself in a quandary.  Clearly some of the works are better than others but is literary merit enough?  What if two of the candidates are people who have helped me along the way or are good friends? Should I vote to support my friends or give yet another award to someone who  has already received an earlier one? Should I select a new writer who might need a boost in their career or throw a vote to the grizzled veteran who deserves something, for God's sake?

My final decision only easy when the work itself is of such outstanding merit that no other choice is possible, but that rarely happens given the quality of most of the finalists.  In the end, the ballot choices I make are erratic, sometimes choosing for this reason and sometimes another.  I am human and I vote both rationally and emotionally. I think I am not alone in this.

Which is why the ballots are not so much a competition as a compromise of principles.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for reading my blog!