There are a couple of clear trends that immediately leap out when I look over the ‘90s. First of all, series! Increasingly, books are part of a greater whole, and repeat winners were more common than ever. Four writers won nine of the eleven novel Hugos this decade. And, they stick to traditional sci-fi realms – space exploration/opera, time travel, and a couple of post-cyberpunk works. They are a very good set of winners though – this was probably the most consistent decade for Hugo winners yet (it certainly is based on my grades).
The Nebulas went in a very different direction. They rewarded a variety of women writers (Hugo only gave awards to two, though they did so five times), which is nice to see, and they continued to expand their definition of sf, a trend which began for the Nebulas in the ‘80s. Again, this is great on paper, but the Nebulas were much less consistent than the Hugos. I almost wonder if they were working harder at stretching themselves than rewarding great books. They had their least consistent decade, based on my grades. Again, I don’t think that this should be an indictment of the SFWA’s strategy of casting a broad net (Hugo voters will go much the same way in the ‘00s), and it certainly has nothing to do with gender (the Nebulas are dragged down the most by a couple of male authors in the ‘90s), they just chose some stinkers.
The one big notable trend, or maybe a fad, in ‘90s sf is probably the influence of Michael Crichton. The doctor/lawyer/techno-thriller writer became a massive success in the ‘90s on the back of Jurassic Park. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that he was the bestselling sf author of the decade. He didn’t win any of these awards, but I think you can see this influence on works like Sawyer’s Terminal Experiment and Bear’s Darwin’s Radio. Again, I hated both of these books, but I was a fan of the genre at the time. The X-Files hit a similar note as a forensic-based show that looked at sf ideas from a very grounded, contemporary perspective. And again, it didn’t win any awards (well, it received Saturn tv awards, which I haven’t covered), but I was a fan, and I think its influence on the genre is evident.
The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernon Vinge
Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
The Terminal Experiment by Robert J. Sawyer
Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons
Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear
Top dramatic presentations:
The Hugos change in some big ways in the ‘00s, and it happens almost immediately with the first clear fantasy winner. So, stay tuned! But first, a week or so off while I do a temp job in Kentucky, and then I dive into the 2011 Hugo nominations