Isn’t it nice when our friends do well? Naturally we are pleased when friends are—to take one example—nominated for major genre awards. It’s feel-good for us, and egoboo for them! That’s win-win! There’s a pleasantly self-reinforcing aspect to this too. People tend to vote for their friends—because of course you vote for your friends (they’re your friends!) and also because just because these people are my friends doesn’t mean they don’t write excellent SF and also because ‘well, in all honesty, there are only so many days in the year, there’s far more stuff published than I could ever read, and when it comes to prioritising what I’m going to get to it’s only natural the top of my tbr pile will be taken up with stuff my friends and people I like wrote. If this means that stuff by my friends is disproportionately represented in my personal “best of” listing, hey, I’m not going to apologise for that!' So the shortlist is announced, and everybody is really pleased to see so many friends shortlisted ("Way too many friends on the ballot to shout out to all, but congratulations everyone"; "So many friends up for Hugos … that I don't know which way to turn first to send congratulations!"; "... gonna shut up now, I know and love most of the folks on this list..."). It makes us feel good, and obviously it makes the nominees feel good, and even people who know neither will surely tap-into the feel-good vibe, or else they must be some kind of Grinch-monster-misanthrope. And the neat part is that the wash of feel-good created by the announcement of the shortlist generates a sense of rightness. Everyone, or at least everyone that matters, agrees that this is a good list. It really must be be a good list; since everyone feels so good about it.
There is one problem with this, I suppose (though I feel rather dog-in-the-manger even mentioning it). The problem is its unlikeliness, in terms of statistical probability. Think objectively and ask ourselves: what are the odds that the greatest literary, critical, and visual artists of our generation also just happen to be a bunch of our friends? Of course, it’s possible; but how probable is it? Naturally, and on the other hand: think how flattering it would be to our self-esteem if we happened to be friends with all the greatest literary, critical, and visual artists of our generation! Wouldn’t that be cool? Or should I say, isn’t that cool? Excellent!
So here we are. Some years the Hugo nominees are a bunch of mostly mediocre novels, stories and films. Some years the prize picks higher calibre works—last year’s shortlist, for instance, was pretty good. This year, as it goes, I have not read all the nominated works and so, can’t make value judgements about the quality of the shortlist. Maybe Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It actually is the best critical engagement with genre published anywhere in the world in 2010. Maybe Cryoburn (fans’ snap-judgments on amazon include: ‘the return of Miles, but not at his best’; ‘Not the best in the series to date’; ‘Bujold's fourteenth Miles Vorkosigan novel. Hmm…’) really is the greatest non-realist novel published anywhere on the planet last year. I can’t say. And, actually, now that I have stepped away from the notion that the Hugos exist to celebrate the best in global SF, and instead see them a much happier, friendlier exercise in in-group reinforcement, I find I don’t especially care either. Congratulations to all the nominees!