Seriously I don't dread it that much, because I have grown accustomed to the idea that I will not have as many nominees as they would like in each category, and I'm okay with that. But nominating for awards, if you're going to do both a thorough and a conscientious job, is hard. Quick, without looking, what were the five best fantasy short stories you've read that were published in 2006? Are you sure they were from 2006? Are you sure they weren't novellas instead? Are you sure you're not forgetting something that knocked your socks off in January, well over a year ago? If you can come up with a list of five off the top of your head, without having to consult anywhere or mumble, there was the one with the guy who did that thing...where was that?, I'm impressed.
In 2002, I went to my first WorldCon, and, knowing that I would be going, I kept track of the short fiction I was reading. I made special note of any story that stood out for me, and if I could tell length accurately, whether it was a short story, a novelette, or a novella. At the end of the year, I didn't have a full slate of nominations in two of the three categories. And I was reading a lot of short fiction that year. I just wasn't blown away by most of it. Also, the effort was annoying, so I stopped, and I didn't start again when I knew I was going to another WorldCon.
I'm not saying this to try to get sympathy for myself or for those poor, poor, beleaguered souls who nominate each year. Awards are not particularly important to me. It's nice for things I like to get awarded for it, nice to have a large number of people say of a worthy work, "This is keen." But I'm also not surprised when the books and stories that take hold of my head and touch my heart the most closely are not the award-winners. Nominating for awards consistently takes a certain personality type: one that is very concerned with awards, first of all. For another, you need to be willing to spend a fair amount of time on reading things from that year in particular, and keeping note of which things you think are good in particular ways to make nominating reasonable, or else spend even more time on it later trying to sort the wheat from the chaff and figure out if perfectly good, nourishing wheat is still not the sort of bread you want baked in this case. So I'm not surprised when books and stories get awards because their authors have won friends in the group that nominates, or because they did good work some years ago and didn't win then, or because their work had a particular appeal for a particular kind of meticulous personality. I'm not surprised, as I said before, when the things I love best don't win. The things I love best have not won in years past. Some of my favorite authors in the world have won major awards, but many more of my favorites haven't. Does that make the authors or their work less relevant to me? No. It makes the award less relevant. Nothing can take away the wonder of a book that hits all the right notes. When awards go to something clumsily discordant instead, it reflects poorly on the award, not on the books that didn't win it. It means that that particular award is less and less of a good indication of whether I will enjoy a book, whether it should be the top of my list for the year to come.
This is not about the recent Nebula results in particular, by the way. It's about awards in general. I will take the time to write down some fantasy stuff I've enjoyed from 2006, to put it on my ballot, because I know it pleases people to know that their work is respected and enjoyed. But I keep my expectations low, both of the work I'm willing to put into making nominations and of the awards themselves. I'm not interested in leading a crusade for awards that fit my idea of books better. Where I find plenty of interesting things to read, I'm happy, and where I find fewer interesting things in areas of interest, I'm unhappy but doubt that awards would fix the situation.
Possibly I am just difficult. It's happened before.