Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

Abolish The Hugo Best Editor Categories

with 17 comments

It is Hugo nominations time and last night on Twitter there was a bit of a conversation about nominating Devi Pillai for Best Editor Long Form. This was kicked off by this post by NK Jemisin entitled ‘Give my editor a Hugo’. In addition, to Pillai’s work on her own books, she also put forward this list of other works:

  • The Way of Shadows, Beyond the Shadows and Shadow’s Edge (the Night Angel trilogy) by Brent Weeks
  • The Heroes and Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie
  • Blameless, Changeless, Heartless, etc. (the Parasol Protectorate series) by Gail Carriger
  • Blood Rights by Kristen Painter
  • Theft of Swords by Michael J Sullivan
  • Cold Magic (the Spiritwalker Trilogy) by Kate Elliott
  • Working for the Devil (the Dante Valentine series) by Lilith Saintcrow
  • Warrior and Witch by Marie Brennan
  • The Fallen Blade by Jon Courtney Grimwood

I have only read three of those novels: The Heroes and Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie and The Fallen Blade by Jon Courtney Grimwood. I love the Abercrombies, I think the Grimwood is the worst thing he’s ever published. It also strikes me as a novel with substantial issues around structure, pace, point of view and consistency, things I would expect and editor to take a firm hand with and things that would disuade me from nominating Pillai for an editorial award. At this point Jonathan Strahan made the inevitable comment: “The problem is, and this is why I suggested my proposed Hugo rules change, you can’t know if it is or isn’t. You’re assuming.”

He’s right. I haven’t seen Grimwood’s original manuscript, I have no idea of the work Pillai did on subsequent drafts, all I have to go on is the finished text. Only two people know for sure, I just have to rely on the evidence. In some cases the evidence seems overwhelming such as with Theft of Swords by Michael J Sullivan which appears to be not only a very bad book but cursorily edited in order to make a quick buck. But it remains an assumption (as editors will delight in telling you if you make any such inference).

There is more than a little hypocriscy to Strahan’s position though. He has been nominated for Best Editor Short Form for the last four years and has not declined these nominations. Yet he believes them to be meaningless, that the people who vote for category are incapable of making any judgement about them. Only authors and editors themselves would be able to nominate, meaning each editor would have two nominations at the maximum. That doesn’t make for a viable award. So I hope if he is nominated this year, Strahan will stick to his principles and decline. In an ideal world, all editors would do the same and the awards would be abolished since what they seek to reward is so clearly incompatible with a popular vote.

Strahan’s own prefered rules change is to give the Best Novel award to both author and editor. This is embarrassing. It is, however, entirely in keeping with the philosophy of the Hugos: awards for all and contorted categories that exist nowhere else. In the rest of the literary world, awards for novels are awards for authors as should obviously be the case. Implicit in an award-winning novel is the idea that the editor has done well to acquire and publish it and they will undoubtably be congratulated by their peers for this. Similarly for magazines and anthologies, success for them implies success for the editor. But it is self-servingly ridiculous to try and formalise such industry praise within a fan award such as the Hugos, particularly since doing so would in no way avoid the problem of fans having to make assumptions. Both categories need to go and not be replaced.

Written by Martin

21 February 2012 at 11:47

Posted in awards, genre wars, sf

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17 Responses

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  1. I think your argument is more persuasive when applied to the long form category. There, as you say, the job the editor does is largely invisible to readers. But the job of a short form editor is as much to be a curator as it is to be an editor, and the final product for which they are rewarded reflects their judgment in a way that is easy to discern – just spot the differences between Strange Horizons and Analog and the Eclipse books. The best magazine categories do cover a large (if not complete) portion of the short form field, but given the problems with those categories it might be a better idea to abolish them and keep best editor – short form. Not that either of these things is going to happen.


    21 February 2012 at 12:07

  2. Why does the curator argument not apply to long form editors? If I really like what Small Beer, or Nightshade, or Gollancz put out in a year, is that not an argument that the person in charge is doing a good job?


    21 February 2012 at 12:21

  3. I don’t really see how the relationship between Short Form Editor and anthology differs from Long Form Editor and novel. To take one of the Eclipse anthologies as an example, I can say that the stories Strahan has selected are good or bad and that that as an implied measure but I don’t know what pool of stories he selected from so I’m not sure what judgement I can make about his curatorial skills. Over the course of the whole Eclipse series a judgement on ability to curate becomes clearer but the Hugo is for a single year.

    I don’t think curating is straight forward for magazines either. Niall is editor of Strange Horizons but surely the majority of the curatorial role lies with the individual section editors. Would you then nominate the whole editorial staff? This seems like an argument for considering the magazines themselves (which people actually experience directly) for the award rather than the editors.

    I agree with Niall’s point that it doesn’t make sense to differentiate between short form and long form if the hugo was an award for curating. But I don’t think the editorial awards are conceived as curatorial awards, I don’t think they operate that way and I don’t think they would avoid the inherent problem of voters having to make assumptions about the editors.


    21 February 2012 at 12:49

  4. You might not be able to judge what an editor has contributed from a creative standpoint without seeing an early manuscript (or for that matter being involved in all the editorial meetings between author and editor during the development of the project), but I’d argue that’s actually not the editor’s most important role anyway. Much more important is the commissioning, the building of a list, and the championing of their list, their books, their authors within their publisher and making sure that they are successful. One could observe, for instance, that Lou Anders seems to have made a list with real character and visual flair at Pyr starting from pretty much nothing, quite independently of any editorial contribution he’s made to the individual books. You could also say that Gollancz have performed pretty damn impressively over the last five years or so. In a way it’s the ‘team manager’ role – picking the players, building the strategy, drawing in and allocating the resources. That may not necessarily be a ‘this year’ thing, but then awards never are really given for this year, they’re given for a combination of recognition and kudos built up over a career that just happens to peak at a certain moment. Whether fan voting is all that suitable a mechanism for such and award is another question, of course…

    Joe Abercrombie

    21 February 2012 at 13:25

  5. That may not necessarily be a ‘this year’ thing, but then awards never are really given for this year, they’re given for a combination of recognition and kudos built up over a career that just happens to peak at a certain moment.

    I think that is a bit cyncial even for me. Certainly recognition and kudos plays a part but so too does the work itself. For the novel, short fiction and film categories I think the connection between voting and the specific work itself is pretty strong. The same can’t really be said of editor or publisher categories.

    Not that I disagree with the idea of rewading publishers for their achievements. I’d agree with your point about Pyr and think both Gollancz and Pan MacMillan have had really strong fantasy lists over the last couple of years. It would also have been nice to see Corvus get some recognition for their really strong launch a couple of years ago. So if the genre industry wants to have some awards, bring it on (and Worldcon would be the obvious place to present them). I just can’t see how they would work as a Hugo though.

    Meanwhile, Karen Burnham has a Hugo nominations campaign I can get behind: Evaporating Genres for Best Related Book.


    21 February 2012 at 14:33

  6. I think of the short form award as an award for creative assemblage. I find this an interesting process (having done it) so I nominate accordingly. Read enough anthologies/magazines and one becomes familiar with the kind of choices different anthology/magazine editors make. I do suspect tho that preferences become rooted enough to prevent the shortlist changing very often.

    I have no idea what the long form award is for given that in many cases an editor is an acquisitions person convincing marketing to pick up a book by either an already popular author or even a book already in print elsewhere. I understand it as worthy but it is not something I feel I know enough about to make even a personal preference call, so I neither nominate nor vote in this category.


    21 February 2012 at 14:35

  7. I think the comment about Pyr really does indicate one of the difficulties with this award – Pyr has an impressive list, but many of the books they publish are the US versions of books from UK publishers. I’m not sure of the ordering of things here, but when they publish, say, Ian McDonald, Mark Chadbourn, Adrian Tchaikovsky and James Barclay, are they publishing them first, or picking up the US rights to what they think are marketable books coming from Tor UK, Gollancz, and Orbit and benefitting from the work of the UK editor that went before them? Certainly they’ve got an impressive list, but I think there’s a difference between putting together an imprint and putting together a book. As various people have said, it’s almost impossible to judge the latter, so maybe the former is the way to go.


    21 February 2012 at 15:06

  8. My impression is that the majority of major-publisher anthologies are invitation-only, so the curatorial function is definitely on display there, and my suspicion is that professional market slushpiles are of roughly equivalent quality. On the other hand, awards for best anthology and for best fiction periodical would cover that handily and involve no guesswork.

    David Moles

    21 February 2012 at 16:10

  9. I’m surprised you see my comment as inevitable, or my proposal as hypocritical. I am and always have been proud of my Hugo nominations, and should I ever be fortunate enough to be nominated again I’ll be proud to accept that nomination. My suggestion merely grew from the existing amendments to the Hugo rules for semipro zones, with the idea that it would be clearer to award the product of editors. However, your post makes it clear to me that this is an area it is perhaps best I don’t publicly become involved in, so I will have to re-think both the suggestion and my re-stating it.

    That said, I agree that Gary, who is a close friend so this may appear to have some conflict of interest, deserves a Hugo.


    21 February 2012 at 22:02

  10. Oops. Apologies. The comment above is me.

    Jonathan Strahan

    21 February 2012 at 22:03

  11. I should be clearer’, and possibly not comment from my mobile with its autocorrect, but I don’t feel the categories as they are are “meaningless”. If I did, I would decline. I simply think there are other refinements which might work better.

    Jonathan Strahan

    21 February 2012 at 22:08

  12. Reviewers very, very frequently get their knuckles rapped for speculating from a text about its production, especially the role of the text’s editor. So I did see the comment as inevitable. It is particularly galling in the context of an award that demands such speculation coming from someone who benefits from such speculation. Because of this there seemed to be a suggestion that it was possible to speculate from a text that someone was a good editor but not a bad editor.

    I apologise if you were saying the need for voters to make assumptions weakens the award rather than makes it meaningless. For me, the idea that a voter cannot know what role an editor played does make it meaningless but I appreciate that you perhaps think there are proxy measures voters can use. But none of these proxies work for me and I don’t think awards should be rewarding proxies anyway. So I even if the awards are weak rather than meaningless, I don’t think there is any way of re-constituting the award to eliminate that weakness.


    22 February 2012 at 09:00

  13. I know it’s buried at the end of a comment, five comments down, but thanks for supporting my pro-Gary Wolfe/Evaporating Genres idea!

    I can’t say much about the Editor Hugo–while I roughly agree with Jonathan, there’s no way I’m stepping up to shepherd a rules change proposal through WSFS this year. Not to say that such a thing is impossible or even onerously burdensome; simply that I have no spare cycles for it this year.

    Karen Burnham

    22 February 2012 at 15:56

  14. I would again argue that for short-form fiction it is perfectly legit to judge editors’ work from the quality of the stories they cause to be published.

    David Moles

    24 February 2012 at 16:58

  15. […] about the inclusion of blogs in the Best Fanzine category. This week, Martin Lewis had an interesting article about the Best Editor category. I’m not taking sides here – this is a complex issue, especially because most people just […]

  16. […] which pros are eligible), for pro categories (for which fans are eligible) and even, bizarrely, for industry categories that it is impossible for them to know anything about. But regardless of whether you are a fan or a […]

  17. […] Editor Short Form and I will be voting No award in both categories. I don’t want to re-hash this post too much but these awards can only ever really be for best publisher or best currator, neither of […]

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