« The Hunger Games | Home | Space-Time! T-Shirts! »

April 8, 2012

BSFA Winners and Hugo Nominations - How many votes?!

It's that time of year again:

The BSFA Awards have just been presented at Eastercon (results via Twitter):

Novel: The Islanders by Christopher Priest 

Short fiction: The Copenhagen Interpretation by Paul Cornell (Asimov's, July) 

Artwork: Cover of Ian Whates's The Noise Revealed by Dominic Harman (Solaris) 

Non-Fiction: The SF Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition ed. John Clute, Peter Nicholls, David Langford and Graham Sleight (Gollancz website)

And the Hugo nominations have just been announced and I say I haven't read any of them. (Actually just reading Embassytown but that's it.)

However what I found interesting this year is the statement that this year there were a record number of ballots, 1101. That's right, one thousand one hundred and one ballots. To me that sounds incredibly small. In the days when a stupid phone app can sell a million copies, or a picture of a melted clock can get two thousand up votes on reddit, or a successful project on Github can get a thousand forks, a thousand ballots for what is supposed to be the premier Science Fiction awards really doesn't seem like very much to me. It's not just the Hugos either, the BSFA awards have a small number of voters too. (Although the simplicity of the BSFA Awards is a credit to them.) 

The reason is that to vote in either of these awards you have to pay, to become a member of Worldcon or the BSFA or Eastercon. Which in turn limits the voters to a subset of convention going, society joining fans. It becomes an echo chamber. It may not be representative of the majority of SF fans who like reading SF, watch SF on TV, go to SF movies but never go to a convention in their life, and certainly would never pay to vote for an award. Should our awards be more representative of what SF fans in general think? Is it time that our awards leapt into the twenty first century?

There are alternatives of course. Perhaps the Locus Awards? Or the SFX awards? Where the voting is more open, but it still feels a little unsatisfactory. We still need to look back at the end of a year and remember what we liked (the main reason I started this blog). 

I'm not saying that winners of these awards aren't worthy, I more often than not completely agree with the BSFA Awards. I'm not saying that the results aren't representative of the voting populace. I'm not saying I don't want one(!). It's just that it feels like we are stamping punchcards and sending them off to be compiled and run as batch jobs on a mainframe with the results printed on paper, rather than watching multi-platform real time analytics unfold on our phones and laptops. It feels a bit stone-age when you have music sites like Hype Machine or We Are Hunted compiling a real time barometer of music tastes. We should be able to track which stories were the most read, we should be able to analyse every thought on those stories, we should be able to craft that into a coarse grained voting system, we should be able to extrude the real wisdom of the crowds.

We should do something.