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Monday, May 2, 2011

Ruminations of an Old Goat

The 2011 Hugo Award nominations were announced a week ago. I remember way back when I was in college, I'd look over the yearly list -- available only through a select few publications or with at least a voting membership to WorldCon -- and I'd have read most of the fiction nominated. There were usually one or two novels I hadn't read and a few of the short stories, as well, but I would probably already have the novels in my pile of books waiting to be read and I'd have the magazines the short stories appeared in. Best Dramatic Presentation was the category I had the least knowledge about; an off-shoot of living in a small town that didn't get movies during their first run.

Now I look over the Hugo list and see title after title I've never read or, as likely, never knew existed. Of the five novels on this year's list, the only one I've read is Bujold's Cryoburn. I haven't read a single one of the novellas, novelettes, short stories, or "related works" (non-fiction works concerning science fiction). In a major change from my college years, I've seen all but one of the movies nominated for Best Dramatic Presentation - Long Form and all but one of the nominees for Best Dramatic Presentation - Short Form. I've read four of the five nominees for Best Graphic Story, showing that my comic book taste remains fairly mainstream within science fiction fandom. Oh, and for those who remember my rant from last fall concerning the Best Fan Writer award, I'm pleased to say that none of this year's nominees appear to be multiple Hugo Award winning authors blogging about science fiction.

Does all of this mean anything? Well, at the very least it means I am out of touch with the reading tastes of science fiction's core of fans. There are several reasons for that, I think.

First, science fiction has grown much larger as a category of fiction, making it harder than ever to keep up with all of the critically acclaimed writing. There are so many titles coming out each month that no one can keep up. I know a guy who reads nothing but Star Wars novels and he can't even keep up with those. What chance does someone like me have?

Second, science fiction has moved away from many of the stories which drew me into the genre (space opera, in particular) and toward stories for which I care much less (depressing, man-spoiled-everything distopias and vampire romances, in particular). Military science fiction seems to be the last place where I can find the kinds of stories I enjoy the most. Despite a long and distinguished history in science fiction, very few military science fiction novels appear to receive nominations.

Third, while science fiction appears to be more popular than ever -- one need merely look at the list of big-budget movies coming this summer or many of the top-selling video game franchises -- written science fiction appears to be dying a long, slow death. In other words, while science fiction may be popular, there are fewer core fans than ever before. Or perhaps fandom is splintered, with Star Wars fans segregating from Star Trek fans, vampire fans avoiding epic fantasy fans, and on and on and on. Regardless of the reason, fans of written science fiction seem to be an endangered species.

I will say that the core of fandom has shown itself to have a sense of humor this year. They nominated Rachel Bloom's music video Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury in the Best Dramatic Presentation - Short Form category. (I won't link to it. If you're really curious, Google it. You'll find it. Trust me, though, it is seriously not safe for work.) When I first heard about this nomination, I wondered if it might be yet another sign of the collapse of Western Civilization. Now I think it shows a willingness to color outside of the lines, if you will. Perhaps that's something that can help re-integrate the groups of splintered fans. I mean, what else could the nomination of a music video featuring a young, attractive, scantily clad woman singing about sex say about Serious Fans?

Well, yeah, it could mean they're mostly men who never get laid. But I hope not.
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