ATTENTION CONSERVATION NOTICE: Arcane arguments over science fiction award categories.
Here at Chicon 7, the 70th World Science Fiction Convention, the business meeting—open to all attendees—entertained and narrowly voted down a proposal to create a Hugo category specifically for YA science fiction and fantasy. Works published as “YA” are already eligible in the existing categories, and in fact have won on occasion; the issue wasn’t whether YA fiction is eligible, but whether there should be a Hugo Award (or awards) specifically reserved for it.
I wasn’t present and didn’t vote. (I had other obligations.) But I have followed some of the discussion, both before and after the vote was taken, and this seems to me an argument where it’s entirely possible to come to either conclusion out of concern over the graying of traditional SF fandom and a sincere interest in attracting new readers and participants.
There were certainly people who opposed the proposal because they don’t care about YA fiction or young readers. But I was struck by the fact a number of those against it were people who care a great deal about both, but feel for one reason or another that a new Hugo category would be an ineffective or even counterproductive way to address the problems to hand. Some of them opposed the proposal because they’re proud of the fact that, even without a special category, a number of YA works have been finalists or winners right alongside everything else in the Hugo Awards. Others felt—and this is an argument that I think merits particular consideration—that the existing Hugo electorate (the membership of each year’s World Science Fiction Convention) is simply not well-enough versed in the burgeoning and diverse world of modern YA publishing to do a particularly good job nominating finalists and choosing winners for such an award. It’s possible, some have argued, that such a category would be dominated, not by the best and most innovative works of YA fantasy and SF, but by whatever works of YA fantasy and SF happened to be published that year by people better known for their adult fantasy and SF.
As I said, I didn’t attend the business meeting, and I don’t have a strong commitment to either side of this argument. What I do want to point out is that, contrary to some rather bitter commentary posted to Twitter last night, this isn’t a simple case of pigheaded old-guard science fiction people being blind to the importance and diversity of modern YA fantasy and SF, or being unable to grasp that the graying of SF institutions like the Worldcon is a problem. To repeat myself, this is an argument where smart people of good will can come to opposing conclusions from initially similar premises.
Which is why it seems to me that fulminating against the supposed “willful blindness of the old guard” is liable to be an ineffective approach, unless you really believe that the only way to win the argument is to abuse your opponents until they go away. I don’t know if I’m a member of this alleged “old guard,” but I’m entirely open to being convinced that the actually-existing-Worldcon could do a non-disastrous job administering a YA Hugo Award. When I say that I think the argument to the contrary merits consideration, I don’t mean I’m convinced by it, I mean that it merits consideration. In the other direction, I’m equally struck by author Cat Valente’s point, also posted on Twitter last night, that there may be a lot more actually-existing-Worldcon attendees who are genuinely knowledgeable about modern YA than we perhaps realize. What I am suggesting in this post is that there are more effective ways of arguing for a YA Hugo than implying (or flat-out asserting) that everyone arguing against it is stupid, reactionary, or evil.