Roundtable: All the Awards (Part 1 of 3)

Andy Duncan

I agree with everything Brett and Liz already said, but I can’t resist throwing in my two cents anyway.

I have spent five years of my life to date on various awards juries within our field.  I also have been on countless similar judging and evaluation bodies, from scholarship committees to the distinguished panel that determined, many years ago, the winner of a battle of the bands at Cowboys Nightlife in Kernersville, N.C.  The experiences are similar; the conversations among the judges are similar; the outcomes are similar:  Someone worthy gets honored this year, and someone else who (arguably) is equally worthy does not.

Over the years, I have decided the primary purpose of an award is not to celebrate individuals, but to celebrate the field those individuals work in.  We squirm when this is made overt, as in the sanctimonious aren’t-we-great speeches about the universal appeal of motion pictures at the Oscars every year, or that endless Grammys tribute this year to the music charities supported by the recording industry.  Yet it’s true anyway; it’s less important who wins, say, the Hugos in any given year than the fact that, once again, the Hugos are given out, generating another opportunity to see one another, and applaud one another, and talk to one another about our field and how it’s doing — and, yes, to kvetch about who got robbed and who’s overrrated and who the real winner is.

Let me immediately acknowledge that this distanced attitude of mine falls to bits whenever I get nominated for one of these things, whereupon the entire exercise becomes entirely a referendum on ME, and so I spend weeks riding a rollercoaster of ego.  Gardner Dozois hits it on the head when he says that even if you know that a fellow nominee will win the award, even if you have seen that person’s name engraved on the base before the dinner, you nevertheless can’t help your hopes spiking in those final moments as the list of nominees is being read:  “Maybe they were playing a prank on me!  Or maybe there was a tie!  Ties happen!”  But then it’s all over, and somebody takes home the trophy, and I go back to my cool assessments.

Writers who have won lots of awards, and have been nominated for lots more, have told me that you never get over awards anxiety, including the anxiety that you might not be nominated for the umpteenth time, whereupon you would immediately think, “Oh, I must be past it; the field has moved on.”

Many years ago, I was talking to Bruce Sterling about that year’s nominees for something or other.  After enthusiastically handicapping the race, I asked him, “What do you think is the smart money this year?”

“The smart money,” he replied, “is not to care.”

Even if you don’t care, awards and nominations do generate excellent lists, very helpful when you’re trying to decide what to read next or watch next, or get a handle on what was preoccupying a given field at a given time.

I like Spielberg’s line at the Oscars this year, when he was announcing the Best Picture winner.  He said, basically, that one of these nominees momentarily will join the illustrious ranks of Casablanca, On the Waterfront, and Lawrence of Arabia — while all the other nominees will join the illustrious ranks of Citizen Kane, 2001, and Raging Bull!  It really is an honor to be nominated — and to have the honor of nominating, a way of giving back, a way of saying, “I’m part of this field, too.”

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