Hugo v Nebula 2013


In selecting your next science-fiction novel to read, should you pay attention to awards granted; and if so, which awards?

The two most prestigious science fiction awards offered–this is strictly opinion, and based upon my limited experience growing up with these award announcements emblazoned upon the paperback covers of certain great books I’ve bought–are the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award. There are other awards. Maybe even better ones. But these are the ones I know. For decades I had very little understanding of the difference between the two. And even now my opinion changes as time passes.

In the simplest of terms, the Nebula Award is based upon the votes of qualifying science-fiction writers and the Hugo Award is based upon the votes of willing and paying science-fiction readers, writers and fans. This is because the Nebula Award is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (“SFWA”), whose members are qualified SF/F writers (meaning SF/F writers that have sold stories to qualifying publications, considered to be those that pay professional rates), and the Hugo Award is sponsored by the World Science Fiction Society (“WSFS”), which is open to any writer, reader or fan willing to pay for a membership (rates vary a bit from year to year, but there are different levels (all voting) and most include admission to the year’s SF Convention).

Is one more prestigious than the other? It depends on what you value. Is one snootier than the other? I’d rather not say. But it is a different, although overlapping, group of voters for each award. Another interesting difference is that the awards for a given year, necessarily announced the following year, are named differently by each organization. The best novel (or other work) published in 2012 and awarded in 2013 is, according to WSFS, the “2013” Award Recipient, and, according to SFWA, the “2012” Award Recipient. Why conform?

So setting that distinction aside, the novels nominated for the final cut as the best published in 2012 were as follows, by each…

For the Nebula Award:

    • 2312, Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit US; Orbit UK) *Winner
    • Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed (DAW; Gollancz ’13)
    • Ironskin, Tina Connolly (Tor)
    • The Killing Moon, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
    • The Drowning Girl, Caitlín R. Kiernan (Roc)
    • Glamour in Glass, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)

For the Hugo Award:

    • Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas, John Scalzi (Tor) *Winner
    • Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
    • 2312, Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)
    • Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed (DAW)
    • Blackout, Mira Grant (Orbit)

You can read for yourselF the reviews and descriptions of each nominated, or winning, novel. But in doing so, the two features to keep in mind are (a) the winners, and (b) the fact that only one novel even made the list in the other category. What does this tell us?

Well, in a broad sense, it says the folks that write this stuff don’t necessarily agree about what’s best with the folks that read this stuff. It might say more, depending upon which lines you read between. But I’ve read both winning novels and loved them both. Redshirts was hilarious at times, suspenseful, surprising, and very well written. 2312 was immense in scope, thoughtful, well developed, and thought provoking. They are both great reads. If you have the time, simply read the winners in both camps. If you find yourself with less time than that, well, you should probably go with the Hugo Award winner. It’s faster paced. But if that’s not enough, go with the Nebula Award winner. It’s not fast paced, but it’s not slow, and it will keep you thinking.

The novels, in a nutshell, are (a) a tight humorous suspense (Redshirts) that is probably more fantasy than science fiction, a great lark and emotionally satisfying (i.e., not just humor–there are real characters with real, heart-jarring issues), and (b) a thought-provoking, expansive mystery/romance (2312) where the backstory frequently takes center stage in an entertaining way that also dovetails beautifully with a sensitive, thought-provoking plot. Both are the type of novel that leaves you not wanting to accept that it’s over–not because it didn’t end right, both did, but because the experience of immersion in the story is that rewarding. It’s a little shocking that Redshirts didn’t even make the list for the Nebula. It makes sense that 2312 made both lists. 

As a disclaimer, I personally have no idea whether these books are the best of the nominees for each award. Of the many nominees, I’ve only read these two, and the reason I picked them up is that they won (I’m a busy guy; it’s hard to find time; but the others are on my list). But bottom line from what I’ve read: really, these authors are good, both of them. It’s no fluke they’ve received recognition. Read these books. But hopefully, having some idea of the difference between the two awards will help you decide which to try first.

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2 Responses to Hugo v Nebula 2013

  1. nancyrae4 says:

    Thanks, J.C. Great explanation of the two awards. Reading your blog made me think of so many winners in the past, books I enjoyed, books that stayed in my memory years after reading them. I still have battered copies on my bookshelf. Also, I’m so glad to see so many women’s names in the nominees. I started reading SF and Fantasy back in the day -WAY back in the day- where there were few viable women characters and even fewer female authors:) Times have changed, authors have changed, but SF is a fantastic genre!

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