Counting the Bests

Today’s release of the final Nebula ballot, and publication of SF Site’s editors’ choice list, prompted me to spend a couple hours today finishing up this year’s version of Locus Online’s annual compilation of various best of the year lists. This year I’ve done it as a subset of the regularly-updated directory pages, and included the awards nominations to date, rather than as a separate tally such as last year’s.

Glancing down the 2004 list it’s remarkable how little consensus there is, beyond the small handful of already well-known titles– by Susanna Clarke, David Mitchell, Gene Wolfe, Philip Roth. Minister Faust’s book emerges as a surprisingly frequently cited title.

I watched a bit of the Grammy Awards the other night, more for a glimmer of all the acts I’m unfamiliar with than anything else. What strikes me about the Grammys more than any other award for popular art is how balkanized the form is. There are roughly 100 categories, and I’d guess that most people, even most music industry people, are interested or knowledgable about only a handful of them, knowing nothing about the others aside from the rare ‘break-out’ act. This is why when the entire group votes on the best album category, it so frequently goes to a dead guy–or to someone living for some sentimental reason–becoming in effect a lifetime achievement award rather than reflecting any kind of judgment about the albums themselves. The LA Times music critic Robert Hilburn has become so incensed by this that in his write-up on Monday he said in effect “Academy–please stop this!” Noting that Ray Charles should have won for an album 40 years ago that lost to a Bob Newhart comedy album…

It seems like there are a lot of SF awards, but it occurs to me that if you added up the number of categories in all those awards the total would be somewhere around the number of Grammy categories, around 100. The difference is that in SF there are independent constituencies determining the various specialty awards. The Hugo, perhaps, is where everyone comes together… While the Nebulas, on the other hand, are one kind of constituency.

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