This Year’s Hugo Awards, Diversity in SF and Fantasy, and the Bechdel Test

I’ve been wanting to say something this month about the 2015 Hugo Awards, but it’s difficult to figure out where to start. For the uninitiated, the Hugos are a set of annual awards for science fiction and fantasy stories, art, creators and related works, which have been around since 1955 and can be nominated for and voted on by anyone who has bought membership to that year’s WorldCon, the previous year’s WorldCon and the forthcoming year’s WorldCon (WorldCons have been going on since 1939 — it’s a big deal). So far so good.

My study -- now more or less finished
My study — now more or less finished

Telling people which way to vote or promoting your own works with the aim of getting votes has always been frowned upon, although some authors have been known to post lists of their own (and others’) works that are eligible in a given year. Fans tend to read a lot of books and consume a lot of other media. It’s helpful to be reminded of which was brand-new and so can be nominated, as opposed to all the older stuff that was also good over the past twelve months.

This year, however, two groups have sprung up on the internet with the aim of making sure that stuff they like made the final lists to be voted on as opposed to all the other stuff out there (much of which they seem not to like). One group seems to be pretty much exclusively straight white men pushing for stories about straight white men (with possibly one or two women as potential love interests for their manly-man hero), while the other group has slightly broader tastes (but not that much broader). Either way, a lot of stories about the rest of us seem to have been pushed out of the running and that can’t be a good thing.

My study -- before I'd filled the big bookcase with reference books
My study — before I’d filled the big bookcase with reference books

Diversity in SF and Fantasy has been a major discussion topic at both the conventions I’ve been to this year as well as on a lot of author blogs in the genre that I follow (most of which fall into a group of bloggers that the anti-feminist, anti-diversity complainers derisively refer to as Social Justice Warriors because they’re somehow offended by the idea that straight white men might actually support feminism and other forms of equality campaigning). I think two of my favourite comments came from a discussion panel on Dr Who – one from a white woman who described her feelings of alienation when she moved in the 1980s (IIRC) from a typical inner city in the UK to Cambridge where the population was far less diverse than she was used to, and the other from an audience member who asserted that these days if the Doctor is to be invisible (in the sense of generally ignored by those around him) in a lot of places then he could do worse than being either a young black man or a woman in her fifties or older.

My front room now has a blue and gold ceiling -- this is more cheering than the 2015 Hugo Awards
My front room now has a blue and gold ceiling — this is more cheering than the 2015 Hugo Awards

People far more knowledgable in the SF and Fantasy world than me have suggested ways to get around our issues with this year’s Hugo nominations. For my part, I plan to keep track of everything I read and review that will be eligible for next year’s awards and share that list as widely as possible in order to jog people’s memories about what was written when, and which books involve interesting – and named! – female characters, LGBT characters, characters with disabilities, characters of colour and characters from other under-represented groups, who interact with each other rather than merely acting as a foil to, or commenting on, some highly standardised hero (a sort of all-encompassing Bechdel Test). People don’t have to vote for anything I recommend, but raising awareness ought to at least encourage people to nominate stuff they like rather than simply following instructions from those with vested interests in disrupting the voting process.

On a brighter note, congratulations to the 2014 Tiptree Award winners, Monica Byrne and Jo Walton, as well as to all the authors whose works made the Honor List and Long List this year. Full details here.


  1. Interesting blog, Stevie. I was just yesterday reading another article about what’s happening with the Hugo awards. It does seem like the SWM’s are going crazy over the rest of us getting into their clubhouse.


  2. I must admit that I tend to live in my small world of queer literature or one tiny field of academic non-fiction, (not even much fantasy anymore due to time constraints) simply due to the Bechdel test and the impact I’ve chosen to give it in my media consumption, be that books, TV or movies. It’s not even conscious anymore or as delineated as Bechdel proposed it, but the concept is there and media without it annoys me. There is too much fun consumption and too much required consumption (for me as an activist) that just takes up my time to waste it on things that don’t give women a meaningful place! Thanks for letting us know how all of this impacts the Hugo awards and one of my oldest favorite genres.


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