I’ve seen conversations about how the Hugos are “just a rocketship” and that people shouldn’t be so invested in getting an award. And while that might be true on an individual basis, the Hugo awards themselves are a reflection of our society. I’m not just talking about science-fiction and fantasy fandom, but our larger society. Now, since the Hugos are dominated by English speaking North Americans, I’m mostly going to be using US-centric examples, but these general trends are true in other places as well.
One of the things about fiction in general, and even more so with SFF, is that it tends to reflect the zeitgeist of the culture. For instance, during the “golden age” of SF, the United States, and much of the world, was focused on space. When you look at fiction of that era, it tends to be dominated by space exploration. During the Cold War, we saw a lot of post-apocalyptic worlds that were nuclear wastelands. Now? When we see post-apocalyptic worlds it’s because of a climate disaster.
In addition to reflecting environmental concerns, the awards also reflect what is important to the voters. Not just in the books that they vote for, but also in the books that they choose to read. In recent years, people have become aware of the imbalance in representation in SFF and are seeking to address it. This is happening in other fields as well — science, gaming, film, politics… but we are always most aware of an issue in our own community. So when people are seeking out books by underrepresented populations they are doing so because it’s important to their close community and also in the larger society.
Historically, every time there’s an advance in the rights of a disenfranchised group, whether that’s women’s lib or desegregation, there’s a corresponding pushback by the dominant group because it feels like it is losing power.
What we’re seeing with the Hugo awards is that readers & writers who have not been represented in SFF (women, PoC, LGBT) are becoming prominent because of a larger zeitgeist that is trying to redress historic imbalances. Again, we see this in other communities as well. The pushback by the various Puppy contingents matches other historical pushbacks. On their side, they think that fiction is being dominated by “checkboxes” rather than quality, which is the same reaction people had to hiring women during women’s lib or minorities during the civil rights movement.
The reason that the Hugos are more important than just a rocket ship, is that the Puppies also reflect the larger societal pushbacks that we’re seeing against women, PoC, and LGBT. So the Hugos represent a battle in a much bigger fight.
That’s why not just a rocket ship. The Hugos are a reflection of our culture. So the battle that we’re seeing isn’t about “what fiction is best” but rather “what future do we want to live in?”