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Nine years ago, I spent Easter at the Hinckley Island Hotel in Leicestershire, home of that year's British National Science Fiction Convention, Paragon 2. It was my second Eastercon, and I'd been engaging with science fiction fandom seriously for only a couple of years, at that point, so it all still felt new. I was on my first panel that weekend! And on Saturday evening, even my complete bafflement at the universal enthusiasm for "Rose"—I didn't grow up on Doctor Who—didn't dampen my anticipation for the soon-to-be announced Hugo Awards ballot. This was after all the first time I had participated in the process, as part of the run-up to the 2005 Glasgow Worldcon.

I don't remember much about the announcement, beyond a feeling of mounting excitement as they went through the categories: things I had nominated were on the ballot! I had influenced the process! I had helped to give Kelly Link her first Hugo nomination, to put Banana Wings on the fanzine ballot, The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction in Best Related Work! When the Best Novel shortlist was announced, reports say I was bouncing off the walls—first Hugo nominations for Iain M. Banks, Ian McDonald and Susanna Clarke! And—stunningly, given that only three British writers had ever won the category before—an all-British shortlist!

These days, of course, I'm more sober about the whole affair. That 2005 slate, as exciting as it was at the time, had some notably weak categories, and some perhaps even more notable deficiencies on the diversity front. (The eventual winners are mostly pretty good though, I think.) As an editor here at Strange Horizons, and a member of the programme team for this year's Worldcon, and thanks to assorted other roles I've played over the years, I'm much more of an insider now than I was then. I've even been a Hugo nominee once, as part of the SH editorial team. The Hugo process is still special, but it's no longer new.

So there I was, on Saturday evening, back in Glasgow for another convention—at the same site as the 2005 Worldcon, in fact—waiting for another ballot to be announced. Mark Plummer came to sit next to me "for the reactions". I was worried I might disappoint.

And yet, as the announcement got underway, I could feel the occasion starting to get to me. The first few categories to be announced seemed about as good as I could have hoped for. I was delighted to see Sofia Samatar and Benjanun Sriduangkaew up for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer; and new names in Best Fan Artist; and The Writer and the Critic and The Skiffy and Fanty Show (the latter featuring our own Julia Rios) in Best Fancast; and Abigail Nussbaum finally (finally!) recognised in Best Fan Writer (as part of what is the strongest shortlist for that category for many years). This Hugo slate was, as in 2005, painting a picture of the genre that I recognised, felt a kinship with.

Then we came to the one nomination I knew about in advance, since Strange Horizons is once again shortlisted in the Best Semiprozine category. Lest anything I've written so far make it sound like I'm lukewarm about this recognition, I'm not; last year could have been a fluke, and everything I wrote then about what it means to me and to the rest of the staff stands. Thank you to everyone who nominated us. And congratulations, of course, to the other shortlisted semiprozines—Beneath Ceaseless Skes, Apex, Lightspeed, and especially this year, Interzone, which was so much a part of my discovery of SF.

That last point hints at what really came home to me, however, sitting there, listening to the nomination read out: I get to represent Strange Horizons as a Hugo nominee at a British Worldcon. It turns out that means quite a lot.

And then came the fiction categories.

Before anything else: we are incredibly proud to have published Sofia Samatar's "Selkie Stories are for Losers", which is a nominee for Best Short Story; many congratulations to Sofia. You can read the story here, and listen to it read by Anaea Lay here.

Hearing the shortlists for Best Novelette, Best Novella and Best Novel, however, gave me whiplash. It's not just the near-absence of British writers, though that is disappointing (just one prose fiction writer on the whole ballot, although there are at least a couple of other Europeans); it's who is there instead. One person I spoke to after the announcement was sanguine, even cheerful, because of the way one nomination in particular had been received: as a middle-aged woman of mixed race who'd worked in several professions, she said, she was used to being the sort of person whose presence was objectionable, and it was refreshing to find that here, now, it's the other way around. That's the glass half-full view, and I admire it, and am trying to hold to it: because it's true that in each of those categories there are writers I admire and stories I will be happy to vote for. It's true that even with the questionable nominations, those three categories contain twice as many women as the equivalent slates from 2005.

But it is, nonetheless, an uncomfortable feeling to be part of the same award ballot as Vox Day, given his past behaviour, even at several categories' remove. More than uncomfortable: I am angry. His nomination doesn't represent the field I know, the field that Strange Horizons tries to showcase, or the field that Loncon 3 is working to celebrate later this year. I hope and trust that when the votes are counted in August, the SF community will demonstrate that it feels the same way.

Niall Harrison is a reader and fan.
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26 Jul 2021

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