I thought I was done with Worldcon and Hugo Award posts for the year, and said so, somewhere, possibly in comments; I guess I lied.
People are talking about a Best Series Hugo proposal. I think there’s an idea here, but it should be given every five years or so – that there aren’t enough series that reach the kind of level needed for this award to be meaningful on an annual basis.
I got jumped on over on LJ by someone who was “flabbergasted” that I don’t think enough series are published each year to make this award work, saying series make up half the field at this point, and generally asking what am I on? I’m elevating my reply to this post.
I think you misunderstand my meaning. I am saying that if you actually want to judge and award a series, you need time for that series to develop, and for fandom to become familiar with those series.
I’m not saying “a tiny number of series have books in those series published each year,” or “there are a tiny number of series.” I mean, let’s look at the pool from that standpoint for a second: it has to be a series that has a book out that year, I would presume, which tends to reward those series which have been going on and on and on and with tremendous regularity. Or, hey, maybe you wouldn’t have to have a book out that year, if the series is ongoing. Or maybe you do, but the latest instalment wouldn’t have to have to be particularly good – after all, you’re not judging the instalment, you’re judging the set. That widens the field.
Does a trilogy count as a series? I’ve been assuming not. Maybe that’s errant – it’s the kind of thing that hasn’t been defined yet. How about two books with intent for more. Is that a series? That makes the pool even larger.
Let’s assume all of those count. That is a very large number, as you say. Huge. Massive. How foolish of me not to realise that obvious fact!
As I told the sponsors, I’m willing to consider this proposal. But given the large investment involved in reading any individual series, I doubt that many people survey the vast range of eligible series when making their nominations, and I doubt even further that in the shortlist – the set of five series nominated in any given year – that many people will be adequately familiar with all five to make a cross-ballot judgement.
And what that gets us to is an important question: how many series are followed by enough people that you get that kind of overlap? Where it’s not just a series with its fans, but the sort of series that is so endemic across fandom WSFS fandom that a reasonable percentage of that fandom have read enough of the books to talk about any given series in comparison with others on the shortlist?
I strongly suspect that number is a lot smaller. I mean, through fannish history, what’s hit that kind of mass? Let’s keep in trilogies to bring it up a bit.
Lord of the Rings, of course. Foundation. White Mountains? I doubt it, but maybe. Pern. Darkover, maybe. Vorkosigan, as you note. Potter, certainly. Hunger Games, possibly. Ice and Fire. Newsflesh, I wouldn’t rule out, but that’s maybe just me. Dresden, maybe. I’ve never cared enough to pick one up and the entire series is in the library thanks to my partner’s interest, but maybe.
I do not contest that there are dozens, nay hundreds, of series every year with a new entry. I question how many are so endemic, so pervasive, that they can be part of a ballot which can be considered intelligently by any reasonable percentage of WSFS fandom, given that playing catchup between shortlist announcement and final voting deadline simply is not feasible.
That is a much smaller number. It’s certainly not “half the field.” More like, with books coming out within the year to trigger eligibility… two. Three, maybe.
And if that sort of cross-series comparison by fandom not the intent – and given that it’s effectively impossible, that can’t be the intent – the result is..
… a straight-up series popularity contest. Which series has the most fans any given year? Yay, a Hugo.
And those most popular series will make a lot of return visits to the ballot, it seems to me, for all the reasons I just outlined above.
That is what I’m talking about when I say there aren’t enough series to make this work on an annual basis. Not there aren’t enough published – that’s trivial and obvious. That there aren’t enough endemic across fandom that they can be compared seriously.
And that is the question Best Series proponents have to answer if they want this to be an annual award. If they can get me an answer that I buy – great! If not – it shouldn’t be annual. It should be, oh, maybe twice a decade, to give fandom time to be able to consider coherently. That, I can see. That could work.
But every year? I don’t see how.