Some thoughts on numbers and the Hugo Awards

Via Tobias Buckell’s blog, I found a link to a complete breakdown of the nominations for the 2007 Hugo Awards. It’s interesting.

I kind of already knew this, but the number of people who bother to get involved in the nominating process is quite small, compared to the number of people who are eligible to participate (anyone with a Worldcon membership can make nominations). For example, the most popular nominee in the Best Novel category, Vernor Vinge’s Rainbow’s End (which ultimately won), got just 56 nominations. The fifth-place Best Novel nominee, Michael Flynn’s Eifelheim, got 35. Karl Schroeder’s Sun of Suns and Jo Walton’s Farthing topped the runners-up list with 29 nominations apiece, which means they were only 6 kudos shy of making the final ballot. In other categories, the margin was even narrower: for Dramatic Presentation, Short Form, “Episode 200” of Stargate SG-1 just squeaked in with 22 nominations, while Heroes’ “Genesis” just missed with 21. Tim Kring, time to phone a fan.

Waxing Machiavellian for a moment, I note the following:

* Each nominator can nominate up to five works in each category.
* Barring ties, the number of nominees that advance to final voting in each category is also five.
* The most nominations any nominee in any category received this year was 102 (The Prestige, for Dramatic Presentation, Long Form).

What this means is that, assuming a similar level of apathy next year, 103 people acting in concert could dictate the entire Hugo ballot. To actually do this Would Be Very Wrong, of course, but it might also be funny. Supporting Worldcon memberships are only $40 a pop, so you tell me: would it be worth $4000 to put Newt Gingrich’s alt-history novel Pearl Harbor in contention? (Just imagine if he won. Newt’s the kind of guy who might actually show up in Denver to claim the award, and if he didn’t, I’m sure Orson Scott Card would be happy to make a Timely Acceptance Speech on his behalf… oh, get thee behind me, Satan.)

One other thing I take away from looking at these numbers: The next time I hear someone complain about the lack of gender or ethnic diversity among the Hugo nominees, I’m going to ask them who they nominated. And when they admit they didn’t nominate anyone, I’m going to mock them. This is a rare example of a democratic process in which a single person really can make a difference, so if you don’t vote, you don’t care.