2023 Hugos: Best Series – why I voted No Award

I voted No Award for this year’s Hugo Award for Best Series. I think the category is a bad idea in principle which is now showing its limitations in practice. My objections are as follows:

  1. The Hugos ought to celebrate the best activity of the previous year, and only the previous year. For some of the other categories (Semiprozine, Fanzine, Fancast), earlier work is taken into account to determine eligibility, but the award is clearly for achievements of the previous calendar year. Best Series is inevitably an award for a multi-year set of activities.
  2. It is impossible for the diligent reader to read all of the work nominated for Best Series in a given year. By giving the award we are deliberately engineering a situation where voters cast their votes based on imperfect knowledge of the finalists.
  3. We are now seeing repeat nominations for series that have been unsuccessful finalists before. I feel sympathy for authors who must feel that they are waiting for their turn, but that’s not the way an awards system should run.

The arguments made in favour of creating the category are now out of date. (See the Minutes of the 2016 WSFS Business Meeting, pages 136-140. I align myself completely with the minority report of Mark Olson at the end.) The proposers in 2016 said:

Looking at Best Novel finalists over the past decade or so, series novels represent a majority of the nominees, yet only a handful of the winners, with later installments particularly disadvantaged. Clearly, the Hugo nominators feel that high quality work is being done in series novels, yet the Hugo voters have a taste for standalone novels, or at least novels that can be approached without any background. This represents a change from earlier eras, when the publishing field was smaller and readers tended to be able to consume a higher proportion of it. In decades past, series novels managed to hold their own against standalones, even dominating the Best Novel category at times.

That was in 2016, the year the first volume of N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy won Best Novel. Every winner of Best Novel since then has been part of a series. Four of the six have been later installments rather than the first book – to name them, Jemisin’s own The Obelisk Gate (2017) and The Stone Sky (2018), Martha Wells’ Network Effect (2021) and Arkady Martine’s A Desolation Called Peace (2022). So the taste of Hugo voters appears to have changed again. If anything, it is the standalone novels that could complain of being discriminated against. (Having said that, five of this year’s six finalists appear to be standalones.)

A weaker argument, though one that is sometimes made, for having a Best Series category is that it supposedly reflects the publishing market. The Hugos cannot, do not and should not cover everything that goes on in the genre. They should and usually do celebrate the achievements of the previous calendar year, and that should be as determined by fans, not the real or imagined wishes of the publishing industry.

I voted against ratifying Best Series in Helsinki in 2017, and I would have voted to sunset it if I’d been in Washington DC in 2021. At least the awful amendments proposed in Chicago last year, which would have excluded popular and long-running series and created many headaches for administrators, were rejected. But if there’s ever a move to scrap the category again, I’ll support it. And if there is one thing I can do this year to accelerate the abolition of the category in a future year, it’s to vote No Award.

So, on to my vote in this year’s category.

7) October Daye, by Seanan McGuire. I have rehearsed previously why I bounced off this and don’t need to do so again here.

6) The Locked Tomb, by Tamsyn Muir. I really bounced off the first two books of this series, but surprised myself by liking the first part of the third book, until the action returned to the setting of the previous two and I got lost again.

5) The Scholomance, by Naomi Novik. Other way round here; I really liked the first two books, and found the third a crashing disappointment.

4) The Founders Trilogy, by Robert Jackson Bennett. The publisher kindly made all three volumes available to voters, and I had time to read two of them before the deadline. Well put together fantasy with a complex magical system, but I preferred his previous trilogy.

3) Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovich. I didn’t read or reread any of these before voting closed, but I really enjoyed the books of the series that I have previously read.

2) Children of Time Trilogy, by Adrian Tchaikovsky. I read all three of theses and thought that they were brilliant. Fantastic aliens, good grasp of inter-species and intra-species politics, superb world-building. I hope it wins. (I don’t have strong expectations for No Award.)

1 ) No Award, as explained above.

On the latest Octothorpe, John Coxon makes the point (at 21:30) that this year’s Best Series ballot contains some items – he specifies the Children of Time trilogy, and the first volume of the Founders trilogy – that are better than anything on the Best Novel list. I think that’s true, but it doesn’t change my view about keeping Best Novel and deleting Best Series.

2023 Hugos:
Best Novel | Best Novella | Best Novelette | Best Short Story | Best Series | Best Graphic Story or Comic | Best Related Work | Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) | Best Professional Artist and Best Fan Artist | Lodestar Award for Best YA Book | Astounding Award for Best New Writer