The Dying Earth

Reporting on this year’s Hugos, Nicholas Whyte observed that Elizabeth Bear is only the second person born in the 1970s to win a Hugo Award for fiction. (Tim Pratt was the first, winning the short-story award last year.) I found this stunning. This means that of the 94 people who have ever won fiction Hugo Awards, only two are under 38 years old. When I was a young SF reader, Hugos were regularly won by people in their twenties and early thirties. It’s one thing to murmur about the aging of SF; it’s another to look at the numbers.

Curiosity sent me to Nick Whyte’s reference page about Hugo winners, which includes birth years for all of them. I idly wondered how many of them are younger than me. I was born on January 2, 1959, and the answer turns out to be sixteen–but if you move the bar just three years forward, eliminating the notable clump of writers born in 1959 (Susanna Clarke, Maureen F. McHugh, and Neal Stephenson), 1960 (Neil Gaiman, Ian McDonald, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and Robert J. Sawyer), and 1961 (Greg Egan and David Levine), you are left with only seven: Michael Chabon, 1963; Charles Stross, 1964; J. K. Rowling, 1965; Ted Chiang, 1967; Kelly Link, 1969; Elizabeth Bear, 1971; and Tim Pratt, 1976. Imagine that: in 2008, only seven people under the age of 45 have won a Hugo for fiction.

Whyte also observes that no Nebula Award has gone to anyone born since 1969.

In the comments to this post by John Klima, I argued a bit with Elizabeth Bear’s assertion of a generation gap in modern SF, but I’m beginning to think she may have a point. There’s plenty of SF and fantasy being written by younger people, but evidently the people who vote on the Hugos and Nebulas aren’t among its readers. If the SF subculture really is “one big family” (as Jim Frenkel’s Worldcon memoir below cheerfully asserts), it would appear to be an increasingly dysfunctional one, resembling Cold Comfort Farm more than the happy creative bohemia we imagine ourselves to be.


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