The Hugo Awards! The Wheel of Time! I feel like I have talked about this before!
Because I have. I talked about it back when I was advocating for the series to get nominated in the first place, and then I put together a big giant refresher post on it to boot. So this is not virgin territory to me.
However, given that the deadline for this year’s Hugo voting is fast approaching, it is probably meet that I should speak of it again, and talk about why I think the Wheel of Time deserves to win for Best Novel.
Because I think it does. Click the link to see why!
Ever since The Wheel of Time’s nomination to win Best Novel as a series rather than a stand-alone novel (and even before that, really), there has been a fair amount of controversy surrounding both the nomination in the first place, and beyond that, over whether the series merits the award in itself.
As a caveat, I have never had much to do with the Hugos before this year, so while I am familiar with its conventions (and peccadillos) in a general, osmosis-y sense, I can’t say that I am intimately acquainted with the ins and outs of why the books that historically get Hugo awards got them. With that in mind, I’m going to go ahead and say that I frankly don’t understand the resistance to the idea that a series of novels can be nominated as a single work. Because when I hear that, the only thing I think is, has everyone else on here been reading the same genre as I have my whole life, or am I losing my mind?
Because, seriously, the serial novel? The stupendous overarching story told in multiple volumes? That is speculative fiction’s jam, y’all. We didn’t invent the idea, but in my arrogant opinion we do it better than anyone else.
I don’t know about you, but the vast majority of science fiction and/or fantasy stories I have consumed in my lifetime have been serieses(eses) as opposed to standalone novels. C.S. Lewis, Roger Zelazny, Isaac Asimov, Anne McCaffrey, Robin Hobb, Katharine Kerr, Stephen R. Donaldson, Lloyd Alexander, Douglas Adams, J.K. Rowling, Lois McMaster Bujold, Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin—just to name a few—are all known or best known for their series of novels (or graphic novels, in Gaiman’s case). This isn’t to say that I haven’t read many wonderful standalone SF/F novels, by these authors and many others, but what I remember as a child, hunting in my tiny neighborhood library, was the joy of discovering that there were whole shelves of books, all written about the same wonderful/scary/fascinating world, for me to eagerly consume one after the other. That was a huge part of the appeal for me—the fact that the breadth and scope of these imaginary fantastical worlds were so breadth-y and scope-y that they irresistibly sprawled and spilled over the boundaries of one measly book into three, or five, or fourteen, or two dozen. It was an embarrassment of story riches, and I reveled in it.
Now obviously not everyone’s experience of SF/F has been exactly like mine, but I seriously can’t imagine that anyone could last long as a fan of the genre without harboring at least some love for the serial novel format. And yet it seems that that format, which is so fundamental to the SF/F genre in my opinion, is wholly disdained by the Hugos, which purport to be the highest award possible for works of science fiction and fantasy, and yet inexplicably have no category for Best Series.
This is just bizarre to me. I see the logistical problems there for a yearly award, true, but still, it seems like that could be worked out if you tried.
(Assuming there wasn’t an inherent prejudice against the series format as opposed to standalone works, of course. I’ll just leave that thought there for more knowledgeable folk to debate.)
But okay, fine, we work with what we’ve got. And thus it came to be that The Wheel of Time as a whole got nominated for Best Novel. Is it a little nonsensical? Perhaps, but surely no more so than awarding Best Novel to a book that’s only one part of an ongoing series, which seems to be totally okay. So frankly I’m a little skeptical of the whole controversy, honestly.
And perhaps this is because it is The Wheel of Time’s power as a series which (in my opinion, obviously) makes it worthy of winning what is, for better or worse, the SF/F equivalent of the Oscars.
Because, The Wheel of Time is not perfect. Not even close to perfect, really. It stumbled along its way, there is no doubt, sometimes badly, and no one knows that better than me, considering how much time I’ve spent dissecting and discussing those stumbles on this very site. But as I’ve said before, anyone’s who’s holding out for perfection in this world is going to be waiting around a good long while, because ain’t no such thing, honey.
The important thing about The Wheel of Time is not that it wasn’t perfect, but that it wasn’t perfect and did its thing anyway. It was in many ways the quintessential example of what epic fantasy is, and I mean that in both the good and the bad ways. It was all the tropes, all the themes, all the clichés even, all the elements of reaching for a scope perhaps outside of its grasp (or anyone’s grasp, really), and it was all of those things unabashedly. Which is something you don’t see all that often anymore.
There are a lot of books out there that want to deconstruct speculative fiction, or parody it, or comment upon it, or rejigger it to be something else, and those are all great things to do. But I feel like maybe in all the coolness of being self-reflexive and meta and post-modern about stories that sometimes we forget that sometimes, maybe people just want to be told a story. A huge, sprawling, messy, awesome story that excites them, and moves them to discuss it extensively, and influences others to write their own stories. I mean, isn’t that why we’re all here in the first place?
I think so. And I also think that that deceptively simple achievement—telling a story that people love, and love so much, in fact, that they’re willing to wait twenty years to hear the end of it—is worth recognizing once it finally achieves its goal. We’ll see soon enough whether anyone agrees with me.
Leigh Butler is a writer, blogger, and opinionator for Tor.com, where she conducts the currently on-hiatus The Wheel of Time Re-read and the currently not-on-hiatus A Read of Ice and Fire. She currently lives in New Orleans, and has used the word “currently” way too many times in this bio. Seriously, it doesn’t even look like a word now. What? Bye!