Monday was one of the most unpleasant days I can remember in all my involvement with Worldcon. Just as I was about to set out for an evening appointment (opening the Out Stories Bristol exhibition on another stage of its road trip around the South West), a tweet came in linking to a blog post that accused this year’s Hugos of fraudulently denying a work a place on the ballot, in direct contravention of the rules of the Awards, the explanation for this travesty being rampant misogyny on behalf of the Hugo Administrators. I had to go and catch a train, and Kevin was in the middle of a long drive across Nevada, so neither of us could do much to address this. I did have some Twitter access on the train, and I spent the journey watching in despair as one after another high profile figure in the publishing industry re-tweeted this allegation uncritically. It was, not to put too fine a point on it, an absolute fucking disaster.
Where did this all come from? Well, back in 2008 John Scalzi edited an anthology called METAtropolis. It had a bunch of really good people in it: Elizabeth Bear, Jay Lake, Tobias Buckell and Karl Schroeder. As an anthology, of course, it wasn’t eligible for a Hugo, though the individual stories should each have been eligible. The interesting thing about METAtropolis, however, was that it was published as an audio book only (initially, a print version followed the next year). So someone came up with the wizard wheeze of getting it nominated in Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form. After all, an audio book is a dramatic performance, right, not text?
At this time we were still fighting the whole “form v content” battle. There were still people who insisted that an ebook and a paper book were different things, and should have different Hugo categories (and, of course, that fanzines published electronically were not real fanzines and should not be eligible for Hugos). Audio was a whole different kettle of fish. Where did audio books belong? No one knew.
There was a great deal of online chat about the issue, with many people championing the cause of METAtropolis. As a result the Hugo Administrators had little choice but to accept the nomination. I was OK about this, if the argument was that the audio book was indeed some sort of dramatic production with performers and a producer, but the way the work appeared on the ballot, listing authors and an editor, and ignoring the producer, made it clear that a decision had been made that an audio book, of any form, was a Dramatic Presentation.
By the way, in researching this I noticed that Mark Kelly’s otherwise excellent Science Fiction Awards Database does not include any nominations for Dramatic Presentations. That’s not just METAtropolis. Paul Cornell’s nominations for Doctor Who are missing too. I’m not sure why this is, and it is not necessarily Mark’s fault, but it does seem odd to me.
Fast forward now to 2013, and another audio-only production appears in the nominations. It is “Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal. This time the voters put it in the Novelette category. The administrators looked at it, looked at the precedent set by METAtropolis, and decided that it really ought to belong in the Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form category instead where, sadly, it didn’t have enough votes to make the ballot.
Correspondence between Mary and this year’s head Hugo Administrator, Todd Dashoff, is available at Mary’s website.
What Todd and his colleagues decided doesn’t surprise me, especially when I saw that Mary’s initial blog post about the story included directions for performing the characters. If anyone’s audio book story was going to be theatrical, I would guess it would be Mary’s. But there are still clearly grey areas in the rules.
What did surprise me is that John Scalzi was apparently told, by the 2009 Administrator, that the individual stories in METAtropolis were also eligible in the various short fiction categories, in their audio form. In retrospect that seems very odd to me, and John did write about it, but I suspect that piece of information didn’t get passed down through the years. In any case, none of the stories was nominated, so no actual precedent was set.
So we have a complex issue here whereby a work has been ruled a Dramatic Presentation, based on precedent, and moved to that category, where it failed to get enough nominations to make the ballot. There are a lot of issues around exactly how and why an audio book might or might not be considered in a fiction category. I don’t want to go into those now, because there is a more important issue at hand.
What happened on Monday was this post, which picks up the story. It follows up some of the complications of audio book eligibility, but despite this it concludes that Mary’s exclusion from the ballot was a case of outright fraud on the part of the Hugo Administrators, and says so, very loudly.
Why? Because everyone knows that those Worldcon people are a bunch of misogynist, racist, ageist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic shitbags, of course. What else do you expect them to do?
Also, just in case any of the guilty parties happen to have some sort of excuse handy for what they have done, the author of the post explained that what they were guilty of was subconscious misogyny. That is, they may not be aware of what they are doing, but being misogynist, racist, ageist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic shitbags they were guilty anyway. It is a sort of Original Sin. You can’t escape.
Quite apart from the accusations leveled at the Hugos, this sort of thing upsets me a lot. That’s because I have spent quite a lot of my life being told that I do not know my own mind, and that I have all sorts of subconscious neuroses and perversions that lead me to think that I am a woman, whereas ‘really’ I’m not, because other people say so. I cannot begin to tell you how annoying that is.
Also, the assumption that everyone involved with the Hugos is some sort of balding, bearded, beer-bellied old man (probably a Christian Fundamentalist Libertarian with a collection of guns even bigger than his collection of Heinlein novels) gets old very quickly. Sadly I know what happens if I’m getting yelled at by some feminist online. If I stick my hand up and say, “excuse me, female here”, someone will tell me, “but you are ‘really’ a man”. I can’t fight this sort of thing, I just end up getting insulted and dismissed.
Back to the issue in hand, however, and there is one thing that Todd & co. did not do well. Given that they found it necessary to move Mary’s story between categories, they should have had the decency to explain it all to her on the night, in person, not force her to exchange emails with them after the convention. In the absence of any other information, that seems plain rude to me.
What they should not have done, despite all of the yelling, is tell anyone before the vote what they were doing. Why? Well, what would happen if that sort of thing were standard practice? Let us suppose, for a moment, that the person in question was not Mary, who is a calm and reasonable sort, but John Ringo, who has recently been claiming that he too has been unfairly denied nominations.
Suppose, then, that a Hugo Administrator wrote to Mr. Ringo explaining that his story could not be considered as a novelette but would instead be in the BDP: Short category. Is it possible, do you think, that Mr. Ringo might kick up a big stink and demand that the decision be reversed? And that there would be a massive online flame war as a result? And that the whole of that year’s ballot would be tainted by accusations of cheating? I think it might be. Which is why Hugo Administrators are very reluctant to deal with this sort of issue beforehand.
Remember also that these days the vast majority of votes come in electronically in the day or two before balloting closes. Even if the Administrators had wanted to warn Mary of the problem, there would have been only a couple of days between them finding out that there was an issue to be dealt with and the end of voting.
This brings us to what I think is a better gender analysis of the whole issue. When John came out with METAtropolis he knew that there were questions of eligibility, so he talked about them openly. Some of the authors did too. The net result was that they proactively created a climate of opinion in which the Hugo Administrators had little choice but to allow the nomination in BDP: Long. It was a very boy thing to do.
Mary, on the other hand, appears to have been fairly quiet about the whole thing. I don’t recall her pushing hard for a nomination, and certainly not doing so specifically in Novelette. She appears to have politely sat back and let the process take its course. Also, even if she had done so, she would have got fair less exposure for her campaign simply because people pay less attention to what women say.
Now, of course, it is a different matter. The story was made available in print this year and should be eligible for Novelette next year as normal. Everyone now knows about Mary not getting a nomination this year, and I am pretty sure that she’ll remind the voters when the time comes. For the reasons explained above, I doubt that Loncon 3’s Hugo Administrators will say publicly what they intend to do, but they would be very foolish not to allow the nomination.
Well, I say that. Others appear to disagree, and think it is inevitable that the story will once again be unfairly excluded, this time by Loncon 3, directly reversing the decision made by Lone Star Con 3. Why? Because misogynist, racist, ageist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic shitbags, of course. It is only natural that they will do the most Evil thing possible.
By the way, if you suspect that the above means that we are slowly drifting into a situation whereby borderline issues of eligibility for the Hugos are not determined by the WSFS Constitution, or by the Hugo Administrators, but by whether or not the authors concerned can mount an effective enough advance online campaign to force the Administrators’ hands, well, I suspect you are right. And I’m not sure it is very healthy either.
Other aspects of the story are of some interest. The post contains some creative interpretations of the WSFS Constitution that will help frame correcting amendments, and which the Nit-Picking and Fly-Specking Committee (yes, there is such a thing) will want to take a look at to prevent any further misunderstanding. The post also quotes the Hugo Awards website as saying, “There is no requirement that a work be published on paper.” I do believe that I wrote that, and of course I was talking about digital books at the time. Kevin and I need to go through the site with a fine toothed comb looking for other potential issues like that.
Of course it would have been nice if the author of that post had come to us with questions. The Hugo website does have an email address, and we are happy to answer enquiries. But I guess there was no point in her bothering. After all, we are misogynist, racist, ageist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic shitbags and we would only have lied to her, if only subconsciously.
Meanwhile the upshot of this is that it appears that all audio books are doubly eligible, as both stories and dramatic presentations, provided that the text is published as text somewhere. The net result of the ruling is that lots of people are suddenly eligible for more Hugos, and a whole lot more works are going to go into the BDP categories. Odd, then, that the whole thing is being spun as a means of denying people eligibility.
Then again, fandom is ever creative. One of the responses to Monday’s debacle was that we should add a Best Audio Book category. Or perhaps several of them, dependent on length. Because, of course, if you have a great deal of confusion as to which of two categories a work is eligible for, the right thing to do is apparently to add a third category it might be eligible for.
It always upsets me when we have this sort of confusion affecting eligibility. I wish we could have nice, clean, simple rules, but the real world doesn’t work like that. Nor does fandom. I did once think that we could get audio accepted as just another format, but then we had the Best Fancast Hugo, which put format ahead of content, so the whole thing is up in the air again.
It upsets me far more, however, to see the Hugos dragged through the mud like this. Individual rants are fine, but having those rants re-tweeted uncritically by people with vast numbers of followers does untold damage. Only a small fraction of the people who saw those tweets will read the offending post. Only a fraction of those will ever read Mary’s post with the explanation, or this one of mine. Most people will say, ”too long, didn’t read”. The one thing that almost everyone will have taken away from this debacle is, “the Hugos are corrupt and misogynist”.
The bottom line here is that if you run awards, any awards, it is important that the public have respect for the people involved in making important decisions. That’s the same whether you have a jury, or a group of Administrators who interpret the rules and count the votes. If you have a situation where, any time you have a disputed decision, the immediate reaction is not to treat that decision as viable but contentious, not even as a lapse in judgment, but as evidence of a deep moral failing on the part of those responsible, well then your awards are worthless. And that, dear readers, is pretty much where the Hugos ended up on Monday.
Why is this my problem? Well, Kevin and I are both on the Hugo Awards Marketing Committee. While we have no say in what Hugo Administrators do (and some of them have been quite hostile to our work), it is our job to ensure that the public has confidence in what they do. We need to be able to explain the rules clearly, and give people confidence that those rules are being applied fairly. In that task, we have failed utterly. If we were working for a proper corporation we’d be finding our belongings in a cardboard box on the sidewalk outside the office around now.
I don’t think that the speed of the Internet is an issue here. The willingness of people to believe anything bad about the Hugos, regardless of how absurd or fantastical the accusation might be, is clear evidence of a much deeper problem that we’ve failed to deal with effectively.
I really don’t know what to do about it. I don’t have the sort of platform that can counter such allegations. Neither does Kevin, or anyone else involved with Worldcon. Besides, as a misogynist, racist, ageist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic shitbag, and an old white man to boot, I am not to be believed. The whole, “guilty until proved innocent, and actually guilty anyway because I am the sort of person who is guilty simply because of who I am,” is incredibly wearing.
I guess I’ll do what I can. I will certainly help Mary frame some motions for next year’s Business Meeting. But I doubt that will help much with the larger issue. I don’t think anything can. I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow.