The Windup Girl & Neuromancer: Two Great Books No Matter The Score

09.10.10 | 2 Comments

When Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl added the Hugo to its collection of awards, it was I suppose inevitable that comparisons to William Gibson's Neuromancer would arise. Both were first novels that offered vivid glimpses into strange yet familiar futures. Both had strong literary style, in contrast to the more utilitarian prose of some “hard” science fiction writers. And both gathered awards like nobody's business.

But the question that has come to the fore is not about the style or substance of the books, but about the awards and, specifically, about how best to keep score. It started with a post from Night Shade Books declaring The Windup Girl “the winningest first novel of SF awards ever.” Of course, Night Shade published Bacigalupi's book, so there may be some bias. A few days later, Mark R. Kelly from Locus Magazine combed through their database and found Neuromancer ahead by 6 to 5, although they also tried to take the relative weight of the awards into account. The merits of determining an exchange rate between Ditmars and Campbells aside, they also came down slightly on Windup's side.

I'd like to offer a third way of slicing these numbers, ignoring the perceived prestige of the different awards, but instead taking into account eligibility. The reasoning is that it is meaningless to note that a book doesn't win an award if it was never eligible for that award.

Here is how the score board looks without eligibility information:

Hugo Award won won
Nebula Award won won
Philip K. Dick Award won didn't win
Ditmar Award won didn't win
Science Fiction Chronicle Readers Award won didn't win
Seiun Award won didn't win
John W. Campbell Award didn't win won
Compton Crook Award didn't win won
Locus Award didn't win won
British Science Fiction Award didn't win didn't win
Arthur C. Clarke Award didn't win didn't win
Total Won 6 5

A straight-forward win for Gibson.

If we do look at eligibility/possibility, we find that The Windup Girl could not have won a number of these awards for varying reasons. Specifically:

  • The Philip K. Dick Award is only for books first published as paperbacks, but Windup had a hardcover release.
  • The Ditmar Awards have had numerous rule changes over the years. In the mid 80s, non-Australian authors were eligible, but by 2010 they were not.
  • Science Fiction Chronicle is no longer published.
  • A translation of Windup hasn't been released in Japan yet, so no Seiun is possible.
  • Similarly, the BSFA and Clarke Awards need a British release that Windup has yet to enjoy.

On the flip side, I cannot confirm whether Neuromancer was eligible for the Compton Crook award. The rules state that a book is not eligible if the author has already won an award for a novel, but I don't know the specific dates of Gibson's awards or if they disqualified him from the Crook.

So, here's the new score board, with a percentage of wins among those possible:

Hugo Award won won
Nebula Award won won
Philip K. Dick Award won ineligible
Ditmar Award won ineligible
Science Fiction Chronicle Poll won defunct
Seiun Award won not yet eligible
John W. Campbell Award nominated won
Compton Crook Award didn't win* won
Locus Award nominated won
British Science Fiction Award nominated not yet eligible
Arthur C. Clarke Award not nominated not yet eligible
Total Won 6 5
% Won 45.5% 100%

* Assumed eligible, but I can't confirm this.

A different picture, no? To date, The Windup Girl has won an astonishing 100% of the awards for which is has been eligible, while Neuromancer won 45.5% (which is still damn impressive!). So much for any kind of lead for Gibson.

One remaining twist is future eligibility for some of the awards. With both the Hugo and the Nebula, British and Japanese releases of Windup seem very likely. This would make it eligible for the Seiu, the Clarke, and the BSFA. If it wins all three, that would be an unprecedented sweep, but even if it wins none of these, Bacigalupi's win ratio would remain 62.5%.

All of this is meaningless, of course. Books do not improve by winning awards or lose value by not doing so. These two books are solid artistic and intellectual works, separated by 25 years of social, environmental, and technological changes. Read them both and enjoy them both.

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