Something hinky happened with the Hugo Awards Best Novelette category this year.
The committee responsible for one of Science Fiction literature’s top awards decided to contravene both the award’s rules and its precedent to disqualify Mary Robinette Kowal’s “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” from consideration, without even telling her.
The Hugo Awards are basically the Oscars of Science Fiction literature. They’re awarded every year at WorldCon, and administered under the rules of the World Science Fiction Society’s Constitution. WorldCon members are eligible to nominate Science Fiction or Fantasy stories that appeared for the first time during the previous year, and the five stories in each category to receive the most nominations appear on the Hugo ballot. (More on the voting process here).
Last year, Kowal’s “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” appeared in Audible.com’s RIP-OFF! Anthology, which was an audiobook. In February 2013, she posted the text of the story, exactly as it was turned in to Audible, on her website (incidentally, if you haven’t read The Lady Astronaut of Mars yet, it is freaking awesome and you should probably have it in your life. Go ahead and read it. The rest of this post will still be here when you get back).
When all of the Hugo nominations for the novelette category were tallied up, “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” came in third (see the vote breakdown on page 20 of the 2013 Hugo Awards Statistics Report).
And here’s where things get weird. The story clearly had enough nominations to make the ballot. But the award committee decided to declare the story “Ineligible as the 2012 work was an audiobook.”
Well, let’s have a look at what the World Science Fiction Society’s constitution has to say about eligibility:
Section 3.2.1: Unless otherwise specified, Hugo Awards are given for work in the field of science fiction or fantasy appearing for the first time during the previous calendar year.
So far, so good–The Lady Astronaut of Mars appeared for the first time in an anthology in 2012. Let’s look at the Novelette category:
3.3.3: Best Novelette. A science fiction or fantasy story of between seven thousand five hundred (7,500) and seventeen thousand five hundred (1 7,500) words.
My word processor clocks The Lady Astronaut of Mars in at 8,035 words. Definitely a novelette.
The category rules don’t say the words must be published in print format, and nether do the general rules. They say the work must ‘appear for the first time’ in the year prior to the year in which it is nominated. Going by that, it’s pretty clear that audiobooks are eligible to be nominated in the story categories. In fact, the Hugo Awards website clearly says, in reference to e-book eligibility: “There is no requirement that a work be published on paper.”
There are these two sections of the general rules concerned with moving works from one eligible category to another:
3.2.9: The Worldcon Committee may relocate a story into a more appropriate category if it feels that it is necessary, provided that the length of the story is within the lesser of five thousand (5,000) words or twenty percent (20%) of the new category limits.
3.2.10: The Worldcon Committee may relocate a dramatic pre sentation work into a more appropriate category if it feels that it is ne cessary, provided that the length of the work is within twenty percent (20%) of the new category boundary.
(1) The fact that they wrote one rule for moving stories and a separate rule for moving dramatic presentations rather suggests that they didn’t mean for stories to be moved into Dramatic Presentation, or vice versa; and more importantly:
(2) Audiobooks have previously been declared eligible in the story categories. When the Audible anthology METAtropolis came out in 2008, John Scalzi (who edited the anthology and had a story in it) was told that while the entire anthology was eligible in the Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form category, the individual stories within it were eligible in the Novella category. Including his novella, “Utere Nihil Non Extra Quiritationem Suis.”
If disqualifying her pretty-obviously-eligible work wasn’t bad enough, they decided not to give her a chance to make a case for its eligibility–or even tell her at all.
Instead, they left her to find out at a party after the awards.
That’s right: they disqualified her story from consideration for one of the genre’s most prestigious awards, and left her to find out about this on awards night, in front of a room full of people.
What, were they afraid she’d make a scene?
Even if they had done the right thing and talked to her privately, that would still leave the question: what makes Kowal’s “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” different from John Scalzi’s “Utere Nihil Non Extra Quiritationem Suis?”
I’m not saying they consciously decided to disqualify Kowal’s story just because she’s a woman. I am saying that I don’t believe for one second they would have treated John Scalzi, Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, or any of the genre’s other well-known white men this way.
EDIT TO ADD:
Kowal has her own writeup of the incident here, including the emails she exchanged with the committee about this.
Also, based on the comments sitting in moderation, it’s time to remind folks that we have a comment policy. I specifically want to draw attention to our policy on comments that add nothing to the conversation.