[The] reality that is now at least tacitly recognized by most professional authors—and stated bluntly on occasion by editors and publishers. That’s the growing divergence between the public’s perception of fantasy and science fiction and the perception of the much smaller group of people who vote for literary awards and write literary reviews for the major F&SF magazines. There was a time in fantasy and science fiction when the public’s assessment of the field’s various authors and the assessment of its “inner circles” was, if not identical, very closely related. But that time is far behind us. […]
When I was growing up and even as a young man, through the decade of the 1960s and well into the 1970s, the authors I would run across regularly on the shelves of any science fiction section in any bookstore—or on the revolving wire racks in drugstores—were by and large the very same authors who were regularly nominated for major awards and won them at least on occasion. […]
What has become equally obvious, to anyone willing to look at the situation objectively, is that a third of a century later the situation has become transformed. Today, there are is only one author left who can regularly maintain the bridge between popular appeal and critical acclaim. That author is Neil Gaiman. And there are no more than a handful of others who can manage it on occasion. Perhaps the most prominent in that small group are Lois McMaster Bujold, Ursula LeGuin and George R.R. Martin. Once you get beyond that very small number of authors, the field diverges rapidly. That handful aside, there is no longer any great overlap between those fantasy and science fiction authors whom the mass audience considers the field’s most important writers—judging by sales, at any rate—and those who are acclaimed by the small groups of people who hand out awards.
–Eric Flint is inside baseball.
I’m cutting out a lot of Flint’s evidence, so if you’re feeling contrary to his version of events, I suggest clicking through to get the whole post. Actually, I suggest you do that anyway, because he covers a lot of (very interesting) ground.
The one thing Flint doesn’t mention–though some of his commenters do–is that a Hugo awards that actually reflected what the mainstream SFF market looked like would very likely be dominated by the Rowlings, Collinses, and Meyers of the world. It would be heavily female, in other words, and skewed towards YA and PR. Going off the last set of US reading demographics I could easily Google up, from 2013, women read significantly more than men (82% to 69%), and 18-29 year olds more than any other age bracket (79%). Sadly the dataset doesn’t cover reading in children, but Young Adult fiction makes up around 22% of the market, and is growing, in contrast to the adult market which saw some (slight) contraction.
These are the people who are reading books. But they’re not, it seems, the people who are voting in the Hugo awards. Not only that, but there seems to be active pushback whenever demographic data like these are mentioned. I’ve gotten a feeling, from both reading other people’s discussions and having my own, that there’s a perception the Hugos/WorldCon “belong” to some Very Special subset of SFF fandom, and that injections of fresh blood from the New Fandoms aren’t just passively unwelcome but are being actively avoided. (Mention “media fandom” to an old guard WorldCon attendee some time and count how many chips they spit.)
Because gods forbid the Hugos be overrun with the voting tastes of a gaggle of teenage girls, I guess. Don’t they know that SFF belongs to Old White Men, and those who emulate the Traditions thereof? I mean… sheesh. Teenage girls, amirite? It’s not like they’re the ones keeping the industry afloat or anything…