Yet More Linkage

I seem to have a bunch of religious stories today:

- Henry Farrell explains why blaming sex abuse by priests on the “permissive society” won’t wash.

- Doug Chaplin explains some of the background the to “right to wear a crucifix” campaigners (Jay, you’ll love this).

- Ben Jeapes takes a much better (dare I say more Christian?) attitude to such things.

And moving on from religion…

- My Clarkesworld colleague, Sean Wallace, thinks that it is time that Sheila Williams got a Hugo. (And you know, Asimov’s is the only one for the fiction digest magazines to feature in this year’s short fiction nominees, so that should put her ahead of Stan and Gordon, right?)

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15 Responses to Yet More Linkage

  1. Steven says:

    It would put Sheila ahead of Stan, but Gordon won the rocket in 2007 and 2008.

    • Cheryl says:

      Aren’t we supposed to vote on the basis of what nominees did in the year of eligibility? If Sheila published several nominated stories last year and Gordon didn’t publish any, surely that suggests she did better in the year that matters?

      • Nick Mamatas says:

        I don’t think that necessarily follows at all. If one defines “editor” as “person who opens his or her mail, finds the occasional good story within”, then sure. But that would also lead to some pretty shitty magazines.

        • Cheryl says:

          Nick, that’s utter bollocks. You and I both know that editors get to choose what they publish. Please engage brain before commenting.

          • Nick Mamatas says:

            Sorry, Cheryl—I overestimated either your ability to read carefully or to actually engage in thinking at all subsequent to making up your mind. So here it is, the long version.

            It does not follow that the editor of the magazine with the most stories on the Hugo ballot SHOULD win the Hugo for best editor. And this is so for a number of reasons:

            1. Imagine a magazine with two Hugo-worthy stories and, in the other eight issues, eight stories each of utter rampant crap. (64 shitty stories, two great ones.) Now imagine a magazine with ten issues of fiction with almost every story being just short of Hugo-worthiness. (Eighty very good stories.) Which magazine has the better editor? If you think it’s the first magazine, you’re wrong.

            2. Imagine an editor whose workload involves nothing more than flipping through his or her Rolodex for Famous People and then asking them for any old shit they happen to have around, which he or she then publishes in a magazine or anthology. It’s well-known that subpar work by Famous People will tend to get on the ballot more often than work of identical quality by Nobodies. Further, the editor hasn’t actually done anything other than make a phone call or send an email. No editing is involved. So, unless “best short fiction editor” means “biggest Rolodex” then it also doesn’t follow that Mr. or Ms. Rolodex should win.

            3. One measure of editorial ability is range of work selected an edited. So an anthologist who does YA, horror, fantasy, SF, “slipstream” etc. could well be a significantly better editor than the editor of an anthology of Alternative Histories of the Crimean War (volume nineteen of a projected seventy-volume series of AHCW stories) who selected two stories that got on the ballot. So again, does not follow.

            4. Another measure of editorial ability is seeing what readers and fans don’t immediately see. How many writers have been castigated by fans, critics, other writers, etc. only to, over the long term, achieve widespread recognition once the times and tastes of the times have caught up with that they’d been writing? An editor with that sort of prescient taste isn’t likely to get Hugo-nominated stories in the short term but surely still deserves an award over the editor who just gives the people what they already know they want.

            5. Finally, editors are valuable to the extent that they put their own stamp on the venue they edit for. If volume seventy of our Crimean War anthology is aesthetically identical to volume one, despite the editor for volume seventy being a different person working in a different business and literary environment, then even if the quality of the two books is roughly the same the second editor hasn’t actually done anything all that interesting. “Stay the course” isn’t necessarily award-worthy.

            Those are five pretty obvious reasons why drawing a line between Hugo-nominated stories and fiction editors directly and going “Aha!” frankly isn’t too clever. And this leaves aside what is going on in the rest of the pool. (Does Magazine X see more nominations after Magazine Y folds, for example, or after Magazines A, B, and C lose 20% of their readership while X lost only 10% of its readership.)

            “Engage your brain”—a good idea. I recommend it.

          • Cheryl says:

            Response below where there’s more room.

  2. Sean Wallace says:

    What’s worse is if you do the analysis, for the three years that the Hugo Awards have been awarding the short-form editor . . . ASIMOV’S dominates the short story categories:

    ASIMOV’S
    2007: 10
    2008: 7
    2009: 7

    F&SF
    2007: 1
    2008: 4
    2009: 2

    This simply looks wrong six-ways to Sunday.

  3. Sean Wallace says:

    Contrast this to Dozois’s run, for ASIMOV’s, where he garnered 19 nominations for professional editor, from 1987 to 2005, and won fifteen times. Yet the number of nominations for individual stories, for, say, 2002-2004 adds up to twenty-two nominations . . . compare this to Sheila’s 2007-2009, and she has gotten twenty-four nominations for her authors. So, what’s up here?

  4. Cheryl says:

    Nick: Those are all very interesting points, but all they show is that there are circumstances in which publishing Hugo-nominated fiction may not be an indicator of editorial quality. I certainly wouldn’t disagree with that. All I’m saying is that there are circumstances in which published stories could, and perhaps should, be taken into account. Your comment above suggests that a connection between published stories and editorial ability can only be true in stupid and bizarre circumstances, and that’s what I thought was a foolish, and indeed un-Nick-like, thing to say.

    Take your statistical point, for example. It is indeed entirely possible that one magazine might contain all good stories and no outstanding ones, whereas another contains a few outstanding stories and a load of crap, but how likely is it? Absent any other data, I would assume that the quality of stories in any magazine will be distributed on a bell curve with some relatively good, some relatively bad, and most somewhere in between. If that’s the case a magazine that publishes award-winning stories may well have its mean position higher up the quality scale than one that does not.

    Of course it could be the case that the magazine with the award-winning stories simply has a higher standard deviation of quality, and on average produces the same quality of fiction as one with a very small standard deviation of quality. We can argue as to which of those is the better magazine, but I suspect that we’d find that not everyone would agree on that the way they’d agree on the example you gave.

    Or consider the Rolodex. You are right that in general an editor with a good Rolodex who does nothing other than call writers and offer good money is not working very hard. But Rolodexes and money all come from somewhere. It is possible that an editor could inherit a Rolodex from a predecessor and have just enough sense to use it. Perhaps that’s what you are trying to imply here. But in this specific case we are talking about Sheila, Gordon and Stan, all of whom, I suspect, have very good Rolodexes at their disposal and are all equally adept at using them. They also all pay well. Nevertheless, only one of them published stories that are on the ballot.

    Of course you could argue that having a Hugo-nominated story in your magazine is, in fact, an indicator of a poor quality editor because Hugo voters have abysmally poor taste. Adam Roberts might choose to do so. But that’s not actually the point at issue here either, because I was talking to someone (Steven) who is a regular Hugo voter and it seems reasonable to me to assume that someone who does vote regularly in the Hugos would tend the like the sort of stories that get nominated.

    Much of the rest of what you say is all very valid, but not very helpful in context. If all of the Hugo voters were people like Jay Lake who submit widely to fiction magazines, interact closely with editors, and have editorial experience themselves, then you’d be right to bring in issues that the majority of readers are unaware of. However, the Hugos are fan-voted awards. As you rightly point out, most readers cannot see much of the work that editors do. They are only able to make up their minds based on what they can see.

    A major problem with the person categories in the Hugos (editors, artists and fan writer) is that people appear to vote on the basis of reputation, past work and popularity rather than actual work in the year of eligibility, which is what the rules say that they are supposed to do. There have, for example, been complaints that people have been nominated in Professional Artist despite having produced only a very little work, and that of poor quality, in the year in question. If you’d like to come up with a suggestion for how to reform these categories so that this doesn’t happen then I’d be delighted to hear it. (Simply suggesting we abolish them, or abolish the Hugos altogether, is not terribly constructive.) In the meantime I would suggest that looking at what stories have been published by an editor in the year of eligibility is a better means, however flawed, of making a choice than judging on career history, personality dress sense or whatever.

  5. Nick Mamatas says:

    Cheryl, note before I begin that I’m not arguing that Sheila Williams SHOULDN’T get a Hugo. I’m just saying that if one wishes to make the case, then one should actually make a real case and not a dubious one based on comparing her Hugo score to that of Dozois. (For one thing, perhaps the difference between winning and merely being nominated boiled down to the extra twenty-fifty voters who really like Dozois’s work on his years-best annual and thus ranked him more highly.)

    “It is indeed entirely possible that one magazine might contain all good stories and no outstanding ones, whereas another contains a few outstanding stories and a load of crap, but how likely is it?”

    By my reading, it is not only extremely likely but practically happens with every issue of Asimov’s versus, say, F&SF, I’ve seen for the past fifteen years or so since I’ve been regularly checking. I don’t read every issue of either, but I follow enough writers that I certainly pick up several issues of each throughout the course of the year, and then I read the Hugo nominees when they are made electronically available. Asimov’s has generally one readable story per issue and a couple of excellent ones per year. F&SF is far more readable, but almost nothing knocks my socks off. Also note that that my example was just exemplary. Also compare short fiction in magazines to short fiction in anthologies. (Anthologists are eligible of course.) I tend to find anthologies to be a more regular source of very good short stories than any annual volume of magazines perhaps because of higher pay rates and less deadline pressure, yet simply because a year’s worth of magazines will publish more stories than most single anthologies, they have a slightly greater chance of publishing a knock-out.

    As far as Mr. and Mrs. Rolodex, actually Sheila Williams didn’t come to mind at all, but if you want my backchannel answer as to which editors I have in mind when I mentioned the Rolodex, I’ll surely email you.

    While Hugos are a fan ballot, I think the sort of fans who vote in the Hugos tend to quite like handicapping and paying attention and looking at what editors do…and editors are of course extremely accessible via their own blogs, public statements, email lists, etc. That said, I don’t think it would be all that hard for a fan to look at, for example, the anthologies Ellen Datlow released in 2009 (not counting what she announced for 2010)—Poe, Lovecraft Unbound, Nebula Showcase, Troll’s Eye View, and Best Horror—and say to themselves, “Aha, well looking at these books and reading them I see that Ms. Datlow has command over many genres, while Stan Schmidt…uh, doesn’t seem to express that same broad aesthetic.”

    Ditto with the eye of an editor changing. Williams has published stories I don’t think Dozois would have—by Chris Barzak and Sara Genge, for example—and I find those stories to be among the best in the magazine. But I don’t think that she’s done enough to signal that there’s a new sheriff in town, necessarily. Dozois might be a hard act to follow for whatever reason, and shrinking circulations tend to lead to conservatism (when the exact opposite strategy is called for!), but if the ghost of Dozois still hangs over Asimov it is at least partially because Williams hasn’t done enough (in my view anyway) to banish it.

    The prescient taste thing came to mind as I was reading a bio of Don Barthelme—his editor at the New Yorker received tons of nasty letters, canceled subscriptions, etc. due to publishing the author’s stories. Later, of course, Barthelme was widely acclaimed. Heck even on a very small level I saw the same during my tenure at Clarkesworld—”this isn’t science fiction, this is all porn and cursing!” “Well, porn and cursing and fancy writing.” “Well, I guess some of it’s okay.” “Gee, now I find myself looking forward to the first of every month to see what will be published next…” And it wasn’t because the material being run had changed, but because the audience was training itself to read what we were publishing. And then we got our first Hugo nomination, but it is not as though CW was an inferior magazine in 2007.

  6. Sean Wallace says:

    You both bring excellent points to the argument . . . let me rephrase this, however: what is the best argument, then, for Sheila Williams to take home a Hugo?

  7. Cheryl says:

    A couple of quick points here.

    1. I am totally in agreement with Nick that we should not be comparing Sheila with Gardner. We should be comparing her to the other nominees for this year, and comparing only what they have done in the past year, not what they have done in the past.

    2. I think Nick is being slightly unfair to Stan. He has a full-time job with Analog which is, I believe, the best selling of the digest magazines. He achieves that by producing very predictable content. Ellen, on the other hand, is a freelancer who constantly has to produce new and different ideas for anthologies. To some extent they are both doing what their personal circumstances require, and this shouldn’t necessarily be taken as an indication of their skills.

    Having said that, the Hugo voters tend to interpret “best” to mean “what I like”, and if what a particular editor publishes is not to the taste of a particular voter then he won’t get that vote. Ellen’s more varied output will probably appeal to a wider range of voters.

    • Nick Mamatas says:

      It’s not necessarily an indication of their skills, but it is a clear expression of those skills. Two things also come to mind:

      Datlow was also doing anthologies while editor of SciFiction. Dozois did anthologies while editor of Asimov’s. Schmidt co-edited three anthologies, and did one twenty-two years ago.

      Analog is the best-selling of the digests, but its circulation is shrinking as well. “Keep it up, full steam ahead!” doesn’t strike me as particularly award-worthy under such a circumstance.

  8. Sean Wallace says:

    Cheryl: I agree with all your points. Bringing up Dozois may have been more of a distraction than anything else. For me, as I noted on my journal, of all the magazines that came out last year, I simply seem to recall a lot more stories from ASIMOV’s:

    “The Ghost Hunter’s Beautiful Daughter” by Christopher Barzak
    “Slow Stampede” by Sara Genge
    “The Consciousness Problem” by Mary Robinette Kowal
    “Act One” by Nancy Kress
    “The Monsters of Morgan Island” by Sandra McDonald
    “Bridesicle” by Wil McIntosh
    “The Long, Cold Goodbye” by Holly Phillips

    I don’t recall nowhere that many from any other prozine, represented on that ballot, so that’s some of my reasons for pushing Sheila Williams.

  9. Ben Jeapes says:

    Why, Ms Morgan, I blush!

    But thanks anyway …