First, a disclaimer: I have never won a Major Award for my writing. Or a Minor One. Or, say, an award of any kind. I am not bitter about this. Plenty of genius goes unrecognized in this sad world, and I have the warm comfort of booze to get me through the lonely nights in my office that is completely devoid of awards. Fuck it. I am not bitter.
Of course, they just announced The Hugo Awards (quick scan . . . nopes, not there) which is what makes me think of this topic. Would I like to win a Hugo? Sure. But here’s the curious thing: I look back on the list of Hugo Award-winning books, and I find I haven’t read quite a number of them. And, for a surprising number of those titles, frankly have no desire to (“The Wanderer” by Fritz Leiber comes to mind). It isn’t just Hugos, either – I once read through a list of movies that won Best Picture Oscars, and the same situation was apparent: I hadn’t seen a large proportion of the films, and I had zero desire to rectify that situation.
Now, I am but one slimly talented and somewhat endrunkened author, so my personal failing to absorb my own culture is not proof of anything. Hell, man, my existence is not proof of anything. All I know is, just about every single list of major awards is pretty much a snoozefest for me, and usually the further back you go, the less interested in the winners I become. This doesn’t have anything to do with time; the last two books I read were published in 1931 and 1972. I think it’s just perspective: The movie that won Best Picture last year still has that unvarnished sheen of Proven Quality to it, whereas something from a bit further back – say, Gladiator – has had that sheen scraped off and stands there shivering and alone like a drunk coed waiting for a bus after a Frat Party: Not nearly as attractive as it appeared earlier. I’ve seen it on TV too many times and I know all the seams, all the terrible line readings, all the logic problems with the plot.
You see, the simple fact is I don’t think these awards are really very good at sussing out what’s really good. Now, if I ever win a Major Award I will remove this post and burn down my own house to remove any evidence that I ever said that, because if I win a Major Award you are going to hear about it. I’ll have T-Shirts made, I’ll call you up every five minutes to remind you, and I will make sure that every cover of my books is emblazoned with the words WINNER OF THAT MAJOR AWARD so unsuspecting fools can buy copies based solely on that recommendation. And my official line will be that Major Awards are mankind’s best and most scientific way to determine art’s value. But deep in my heart I will still know that awards are generally bullshit.
Awards are useful, sure. It’s just remarkable how little use I have for them in my reading and viewing choices. This is either because I am a shallow jackass, or because Awards are kind of random and often poorly administered, or simply because something that seems really cool when it first comes out turns out to be a shallow, bloated monstrosity filled with faux importance and cheap manipulation when you’ve had some years to get past the hype. And of course people vote for things for really dubious reasons, sometimes. Now if someone would please nominate me for a Hugo for Best unresearched Blog Post, I’d appreciate it. Thankee.