Who Wins Hugos?

Elizabeth Bear:

Anyway, I had an epiphany while reading the ToC of the 2007 Year’s Best Science Fiction. Which basically amounted to– “oh.”

We don’t read them. And they don’t read us.

Well, really. I wonder when the last time was that Bob Silverberg read a story by Benjamin Rosenbaum, David Moles, or Yoon Ha Lee?

See, I’m thinking I’m on to something here. There’s a generation gap in SFF; we’re having different conversations, the Greatest Generation, the Baby Boomers, and Generation X. And as the Millennials (really, guys, this Gen Y thing has to stop: grant the kids their own identity) enter the genre, they too will be having their own argument.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden:

Reporting on this year’s Hugos, Nicholas Whyte observed that Elizabeth Bear is only the second person born in the 1970s to win a Hugo Award for fiction. (Tim Pratt was the first, winning the short-story award last year.) I found this stunning. This means that of the 94 people who have ever won fiction Hugo Awards, only two are under 38 years old. When I was a young SF reader, Hugos were regularly won by people in their twenties and early thirties. It’s one thing to murmur about the aging of SF; it’s another to look at the numbers.

Anna Lawrence (in the comments to PNH’s post):

Are we allowing for birth date: date of Hugo ceremony? Maybe authors born in the 50s are ‘old’ now (I would dispute this), but if they had won awards in the 70s and 80s they would have been Young Turks (and, if in the 60s, child prodigies).

Hence, a graph, based on Nicholas Whyte‘s data, plus this year’s winners.


(For some reason, I couldn’t get Excel to export in colour. Don’t ask me why. UPDATE: New graph, courtesy Liz. Praise Liz!)

  • In the first three cohorts, between 7% and 17% of Hugos for fiction go to people in their twenties; after that, none do.
  • In the first four cohorts, between a third and half of Hugos for fiction go to people in their thirties; once you get to the nineties, that drops to less than 15%.
  • The proportion of Hugos for fiction going to writers in their sixties is twice as high in the present decade as it’s ever been previously.

P.S. New site layout — good? Bad?

25 thoughts on “Who Wins Hugos?

  1. I’m confused. Silverberg stopped editing at Year’s Best some time ago. David Hartwell & I, who do edit such a volume, do read all three writers she names and have reprinted in Year’s Bests 2 out of the three (though I think both of them in Year’s Best Fantasy volume). Maybe Patrick has a point. But I’m not sure what Elizabeth Bear is trying to say.

  2. Well this year’s Tiptree winner is 34…

    but the stats are interesting. I wonder how much weight is gained by an author becoming established with a fanbase? An analysis of how many books an author had published at the time of their win might suggest a trend to the more established? Hence, for example, the well-liked Connie Willis winning with a mediocre (by her standards) story. Hence the virtual guarantee that Neil Gaiman would win. Its the flaw in popularity polls. People can’t vote for what they are unfamiliar with. They know Willis, Gaiman, etc.

    And of course Bear has already reached double figures in published books, as has Charlie Stross, in double quick time. It has to give them an advantage over the Rosenbaums and Rickerts doesn’t it?

  3. I’m not too keen on the layout, but it’s hard to say right now whether it’s because I preferred the old one (eek, new look! Nothing’s where I expect it now!) or if there’s anything particular about the new style that strikes me as wrong. I think I will find it hard to get used to the ‘Recent posts/comments’ part being at the top left, mind.

    The green is *way* better than the blue that was on show yesterday.

  4. Thanks for the nod to my statistics!

    But I have a slightly more developed form of the thesis: that the writers born between 1942 and 1951 have won a disproportionate number of both Hugos and Nebulas, which your (admittedly very lovely) graphs slightly flattens out.

    In 2006, the 1962-71 cohort had won 10 Hugos and Nebulas, of which 1 before 1996
    In 1996, the 1952-61 cohort had won 17 Hugos and Nebulas, of which 1 before 1986 (and that one was declined by the recipient)
    In 1986, the 1942-51 cohort had won 62 Hugos and Nebulas, of which 11 before 1976
    In 1976, the 1932-41 cohort had won 31 Hugos and Nebulas (though pre-1966 comparisons aren’t really fair as the categories don’t match).

    It’s a fairly colossal disparity.

  5. We can swap round the recent posts/comments to the right sidebar if that’s better. The blue was my fault, I went a bit overboard on the colour before we went for a more restrained palette.

    It doesn’t surprised me that much that the age of Hugo winners is increasing, although I hadn’t realised it was that extreme. We know that fandom is aging, and I’m not surprised that they Hugo voters are continuing to vote for their favourite writers, who were in their twenties and thirties when they first voted for them; in addition, when the field was newer there were probably fewer writers working in the field who were in their sixties and seventies. (This last bit is not based on any figures, so people with more knowledge feel free to contradict me.)

    It would be really interesting to see demographic data for the Hugo voters, like they collect for the Locus awards. The Hugo voters are only a subset of the Worldcon attendees, and I’d love to see if they skew towards the older fans or those who have been attending for longer.

  6. It’s a great look for the site.

    Also the chart is far more persuasive in colour. Only colour charts can Prove Things. ;-)

  7. Nicholas Whyte is correct. I wrote about a different aspect of this in an early issue of NYRSF. You need to also track the year of first sale in the field, not just absolute age to track true cohorts, and the babyboomers came into the field and just kept on coming for quite a while, notably raising the average age of new writers. That was noticeable 20 years ago. I haven’t checked whether that trend continued after 1988, but it would be reasonable to expect that it would have.

  8. On layout colours: yeah, we’ve been going back and forth on these. I quite like the green, I have to say, but it may change again.

    Nicholas: I really should’ve remembered you’d already done that analysis! Though I have to say I find both ways of visualizing the data helpful.

    Kathryn: yep, Liz produced a colour graph.

  9. I vote for the green, and I like the new layout. The wider main-text area is a Good Thing (something I need to work on getting for my blog, someday).

    Can’t say much about the age thing – greying of Fandom? aging WorldCon membership? I know I’ve been accosted a few times and asked (aggressively) why more people my age don’t come to WorldCon (the answer that they want to avoid being accosted aggressively doesn’t occur to these individuals).

  10. I’d be interested in seeing this graph compared with a graph showing the average age of worldcon members as I suspect that there’s a link.

    What’s most shocking about that graph to me is the suggestion that nobody in their 20s has won a Hugo in nearly three decades. If trends continue then the 30-something winners may well disappear too or be limited to short fiction only.

  11. When we went to our first WorldCon, I distinctly remember that many of the younger people there hadn’t voted in the Hugos because they’d misplaced their codes or hadn’t read everything or something other reason. That year, in the fiction categories, there were about 300 people voting total for most of them besides novel, out of however many eligible voters there are (a lot more than that). My guess is that the average attendee age is on the older end, and that those attendees are also more likely to vote. It’s still a pretty dastardly participation number and I can’t help thinking that what really needs to happen is some push to get more people to vote… I have no idea if such a thing would be effective, but I realize it’s probably relatively impossible given it’s a different committee putting the WorldCon together each year.

    The question I keep asking — only having been to the one WorldCon so far — is whether it’s just become a convention less about literature and more about other things and if that’s the reason for such low voting? This may be a naive question, but I have no idea if it was more or less lit-focused in the past. I’d love to see whether the number of voters has been constant or there’s been a precipitous drop-off there too.

  12. The graph also reflects two things related to how the Hugos are awarded, which is by members of the World Science Fiction Convention.

    Science Fiction as a field only starts in the 1930’s and the Hugo’s themselves in the 1950’s. It was a field that appealed to young people by its content and the fact it was still wide open.

    Also back then I get the feeling the fans themselves were as young as the winners and that the writers in general were a younger group. Worldcon attendence itself while smaller was on average a younger crowd than it is today. So more likely to vote for their peers.

  13. Has any one done an examination of the ages of nominees?

    To me getting on the list of nominees is one thing, the pool of nominators being smaller than the pool of voters.

    Also people who vote for the Hugos might not have time to read all the fiction so end up voting for the familiar name.

  14. Just did a quick run down of the shortlisted novels of the last decade. The average number of books published by shortlisted authors at the time of shortlisting is 9.25*. So is it not so much age as the building of a fanbase that counts? After all Bear has 12 books out now for all her youthfulness.

    * figure skewed slightly downwards by not counting Neil Gaiman’s many graphic novels in. With them included the figure would be around 9.6.

  15. That would account for Vinge’s win last year. Rainbows End was not his best work and had it not come from such an august and comparatively unproductive writer as him I very much doubt it would have been shortlisted.

    The size of fanbase issue does track back into the age thing though I imagine the older you get the more tempting it must be to keep buying the same names. Especially nowadays when so much is published that discovering the new hotness must be comparatively difficult. Partlicularly if you’re not that web-capable.

  16. I am shocked by the graph of the Hugo winners, but upon reflection, I realized I shouldn’t be.

    I’ve only managed to attend one Worldcon – and it was a last minute decision, so I wasn’t able to vote on anything. I can tell you the main reason I do not attend Worldcon is money. I can’t afford it. I have a feeling many younger readers are in the same boat.

    When it costs over $100 to just attend (in advance!!), then you add the hotel, food, transportation, etc, this is not a convention for the poor, the college student, the fiscally challenged. While I love attending conventions, I love eating more.

    I think the main reason, then, the winners are older is because it’s mostly the older fans who can afford to attend Worldcon and are eligible to vote. And speaking as an older (now) fan, I tend to stick with those writers I spent my youth reading, only venturing into the younger waters on rare occasions. It’s not right, it’s not good for the SFF community as a whole, but it is the way it is.

    Maybe if Worldcons were priced more like a normal 3 or 4 day convention, you would get more lower-income/younger attendees – and voters participating.

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