Public Statement re the Hugos

As questions have been raised on File770 regarding my involvement in the Chengdu Hugo Award disaster, I am making a public statement.

1. I was not a member of the committee of the Chengdu Worldcon, and was not involved with the convention other than as an ordinary member of WSFS who did not attend the event.

2. I was not involved in any way with the Administration of the Hugo Awards for Chengdu.

3. As a member of the Hugo Awards Marketing Committee it was my duty to ensure that the results of the Hugo Award voting process were posted to the official website promptly and accurately, as they were supplied to us by each year’s Worldcon, including those from Chengdu. We had no authority to comment on or change those results in any way.

4. I am not, nor ever have been, a member of the WSFS Mark Protection Committee (MPC).

5. I am not, nor ever have been, a Director of Worldcon Intellectual Property (WIP), and have no financial stake in that organisation. WIP was created from the corporation that ran the SF&F Translation Awards (of which I was a Director), but no directorships carried over from the one organisation to the other, save for Kevin Standlee who is a Director of WIP because of his membership of the MPC.

6. I resigned from the Hugo Award Marketing Committee, primarily because I no longer wish to be held responsible for (including being subject to legal and reputational risk for) the actions of organisations of which I am not a member and over which I have no influence.

7. Having seen legal advice on the subject, I am confident that the contracts I issued from Wizard’s Tower Press are structured in such a way that no one suing me, either individually or as an officer of WSFS, will be able to obtain the rights to any of the works published by Wizard’s Tower.

LGBTQ+ History Month is Here

This Wednesday at 13:00 (UK time) I will be giving a free online talk on trans history for The Diversity Trust. It will be fairly general and basic as it will cover around 2000 years, but there will be a couple of new things in it if you’ve seen my talks before. For registration details, click here.

Also, if you can be in Bristol on the 24th, I’ll be taking part in the event at M Shed.

Locus Recommends

It is that time of year once more, and the annual Locus Recommended Reading List is now live. I am once again honoured to have been invited to contribute to the creation of the list. I am one person in an increasingly large and diverse group, so I’m afraid I can’t take the blame for anything on the list, but I am very pleased that some books I loved have been included. You can read the list here.

Miracles of Ancient Science

A couple of weeks back I was doing some work in the house. I was kneeling down, and as I went to push myself upright I felt something go in my left knee. That’s not entirely unusual. I’ve had knee problems before. I figured it was a sprain and if I took reasonable care of it then it would heal in time.

Healing did not happen. There wasn’t any pain most of the time, but the knee was badly swollen and despite lots of cold treatement did not improve. I had it heavily strapped up, and was walking with a cane.

After a couple of weeks I messaged my GP because I was worried there might be something seriously wrong. I got a message back saying that they were overwhelmed and, unless it was an emergency, I’d have to wait. There’s an entirely separate rant to be had about what the Tories have done to the NHS, and what Labour will contine to do because lots of their MPs are also being heavily sponsored by American healthcare companies.

However, this is a rugby town. If there is one thing we are not short of, it is physiotherapists. I found one online and gave him a call. Today I had an appointment.

The good news is that the physio doesn’t think that there is anything seriously wrong. My knee just needs a lot of time to heal. Many weeks. But he did suggest that could speed things up with a bit of accupuncture.

Well, I thought, it was worth a try. And it would be a new experience. So I sat there on his treatment couch for half an hour with needles in my knee and ankle. At the end of the treatment I could walk without either knee brace or cane. I still limp, and am going back next week for more treatment, but I am seriously impressed,

So if anyone asks you if accupuncture works, you can tell them that you know someone for whom it most definitely did.

Legal Complications

My thanks to everyone who welcomed the ideas Kevin and I had for reforming Hugo Award administration. However, I regret to say that I no longer believe that solution is possible. Here’s why.

As I explained yesterday, individual Worldcons are incorporated. They have to be, because they as subject to enormous legal risks. But WSFS, famously, is not incorporated. If we were to create an Independent Hugo Award Administration Committee as part of WSFS, that would also not be incorporated. Anyone who was unhappy with the results of the Hugos in a particular year could then sue the members of that committee for damages. No one would serve on such a committee under such circumstances.

There are technical ways around this, but they’d require a lot more wording in the original motion. In particular there is an organisation called WorldCon Intellectual Property Inc. (WIP) that exists to own the WSFS service marks. That could be re-puposed to own the IHAAC. Ironically, WIP was created out of the ashes of the corporation that Kevin and I created to run the SF&F Translation Awards, so it was originally an award organisation. But the creation of WIP was hugely controversial within WSFS, with many people seeing it as creeping incorporation. And of course there are plenty of people within fandom who think it is wrong for WSFS to own the Hugo marks at all.

So we could re-craft the motion so that the IHAAC reports directly to WIP, and its members are therefore protected by WIP’s corporate shield. However, that would leave little for WSFS to actually do. It is incorporation by another name, and it would make much more sense to simply transform WIP into WSFS Inc.. And that, I’m afraid, will not fly.

I may be wrong, but my sense is that there are still way too many people within fandom, and in particular amongst those who run Worldcons, who will fight to their dying breath to oppose incorporation of WSFS. Indeed, I suspect that some old-time fans will be trying to rise from their graves to come and vote against it.

At this point I think WSFS is dead in the water. It can’t enforce its own constitution, and the social contract by which Worldcons agreed to adhere to the Constitution anyway has been broken. The only possible remedy is anathema to too many people in fandom. I’m not sure we can get out of this.

A Smoking Gun?

There has been talk for a few days that Chengdu gave notice in advance that Hugo Administration might be subject to local laws. I’ve been reluctant to support it without proof, but that has now come through (thanks Nibedita Sen on Blue Sky). In Progress Report #2 on page 5 it says the following:

Eligible members vote according to the “one person, one vote” rule to select Hugo Award works and individuals that comply with local laws and regulations. The Chengdu organizing committee will review the nominated works and validate the votes.

Emphasis mine there.

So I guess we were warned.

FWIW, I don’t think there needs to have been direct government interference here. Having lived in the UK through Section 28 (the original “Don’t say gay” law), I have seen first hand how ordinary people, often out of fear, willingly implement, and often go well beyond, censorship required by government. Pressure from sponsors may have played a role, and the Chengdu committee may simply have been afraid for their safety if they did not do this. From the way Dave McCarty is behaving, I suspect they are also afraid of admitting to having done it.

How Did We Get Here?

One of the more common questions I’m getting asked on social media is why WSFS is not incorporated, and why is there so much resistance to it being so. I’m not really the right person to answer that, because I only started going to Worldcons in 1995. The fannish war over incorporartion had been going on for some time by then and was deemed mostly settled against the idea, but I will give it a go.

In 1995, incorporation was clearly still a hot potato. Most people back then thought that the Business Meeting was a load of boring nonsense, but the one thing I was told was guaranteed to get everyone out of the program sessions and into the BM to vote was a cry of, “WSFS Inc.! To the Barricades!!!”

So why exactly does Worldcon fandom have this horror of incorporation? It has become clear to me over the years that many people involved in running Worldcons despise WSFS and would be much happier if it went away. Part of that is sheer selfishness. Once they have got control over the shiny toy for a year they want to be able to run it however they want, not be constained by some stupid old constitution. But there is also a very real fear among con-runners of mechanisms that might come back to bite them.

Worldcon is a massive undertaking staffed entirely by volunteers. It is questionable as to why anyone would take on such a responsibility if they thought that there could be serious consequences for them if they got it wrong. Worldcons routinely take out insurance against being sued for various reasons, but having legal obligations to WSFS would be harder to avoid.

(Updating this because a couple of people read it in a way I didn’t intend. Individual Worldcons incorporate. They have to, and they have to do so under the laws of their host country. What Worldcons do not want is for WSFS to incorporate. Nor do they want to have to sign legal agreements with WSFS in exchange for the right to run Worldcon.)

Some of the responses to my suggestion for fixing the Hugos also cast light on the issue. Some people have responded that the Mark Protection Committee is the wrong body to take on the responsibility because the current members are all incompetent arseholes. Well, that’s an opinion, but that’s why I suggested that people might want to amend the motion to have them all stood down and new elections take place.

Heather Rose Jones has made some very good points about the dangers of having such a body, and she’s dead right. There are ways in which it could go bad. Democracy only works if we are constantly vigilant and prevent it being subverted.

But then there are people who say that it can never work because the wrong people will always get elected. That’s much more of a Libertarian viewpoint: all government is bad, because anyone who gets to be in government is bad.

That brings us back to the early years of Worldcon, and a time when many of the attendees were hard core Heinlein fans. Resistance to incorporation is, I think, at least in part driven by the idea that risking an occasional individual Worldcon going rogue is far preferable to creating an official body that might itself go rogue and then could not be stopped. If you agree with that assessment then you too should be against any proposal that creates an oversight body.

Up until now, of course, it has worked. Worldcons have mostly done the right things and followed the rules, even though they could not be forced to do so. Chengdu has changed all that. And I note that, when Kevin and I explain that there’s nothing that Glasgow can do about it under the Constitution, a common reaction is that they should just do it anyway. Going rogue can be infectious.

Decoupling the Hugos

In amongst all of the discussion as to what to do about the Chengdu Hugo issue has been one suggestion that can actually be implemented, albeit over a number of years. That is decoupling Hugo Award Administration from the host Worldcon, so that the laws of the host country cannot interfere with the voting process.

I explained my ideas to Kevin, and he kindly drafted a resolution that could be put before the Business Meeting in Glasgow. You can see that here, but it is long and legalistic so I’ll describe the basic idea. (If you want a DOCX or RTF version, ask me.)

WSFS already has an organization called the Mark Protection Committee (MPC), which is responsible for maintaining the service marks that WSFS owns (in particular “Hugo Award” and the logo). I suggest renaming this the Independent Hugo Award Administration Committee (IHAAC) and giving it, rather than Worldcon, the job of administering the voting process. The IHAAC would recruit experienced administrators in much the same way that Worldcon does, but there would be a lot more consistency from year to year.

Worldcon would still have the option of staging a Hugo Award ceremony, and creating a distinctive trophy base, but equally it could decline to do that and pass the job back to the IHAAC.

Kevin and I cannot take this proposal forward ourselves. Kevin is a member of the MPC, and I effectively work for them in maintaining the WSFS websites, so we both have a vested interest. Our involvement could easily be portrayed as a power grab. But we are happy to provide help and advice to anyone who does want to take this forward at Glasgow.

It would also benefit from input from people who have good experience of Worldcon budgets. I don’t know how much running Hugo Administration costs, and the IHAAC would need a share of WSFS membership fees to cover that. Some of that should probably be paid well in advance, just in case the Worldcon later goes bankrupt. Input from people who understand international data sharing laws would also be useful.

There are also changes that might be needed to ensure broad support for the idea. For example, people might want the current MPC members to resign and stand for re-election because their role has changed. They might want IHAAC members to be elected by online ballot of the WSFS membership rather than at the Business Meeting. It might be easier for Worldcons if the IHAAC administered Site Selection as well, and so on. The current motion represents what we think are the minimum number of changes required.

Neither Kevin nor I are wedded to any particular version of this. We are simply putting it out there to help people get started on a change that at least some people appear to want.

Of course there will also be people who think that this will inevitably lead to WSFS being incorporated and having a board of directors. That is entirely possible, and I expect such people to oppose any change of this type. But I also think it is incumbent upon them to propose a better idea, or to explain to fandom why the current chaos is preferable to WSFS Inc..

A Better Analogy for Worldcon

The social media drama about this year’s Hugos continues unabated. Kevin and I are still getting a fair amount of pushback to our attempts explain what can and can’t be done. A lot of this falls into two camps. Firstly there are the people who assume that we must be lying and are probably part of the conspiracy. And then there are people who quote bits of the WSFS Constitution at us as if this was some massive gotcha because of course we can’t possibly understand it ourselves. Neither of these groups are worth engaging with.

However, there are people who are prepared to listen. And one (thank you, Joseph), led me to what I think is a better explanation of how WSFS and Worldcon work.

Traditionally, people have compared Worldcon to the Olympics. Cities bid for the right to hold it. When one wins a bid, the local organising committee is largely responsible for running the event. But this analogy has two flaws. Firstly the International Olympic Committee actually exists. And secondly, they do have some limited power over how each year’s Olympics are run. In contrast, the “Hugo Board” does not exist, and no one has any power over a seated Worldcon.

A better analogy, I think, is that of a parliamentary election. We, the people (i.e. WSFS members), vote for a party to govern us. Once that party is elected, it may or may not do what is promised to do during the election. And it may do things that we definitely didn’t want it to. But, short of taking to the streets and protesting, there is little that we, as electors can do.

Of course a functioning democracy should have checks and balances on the power of the government. There might be a separately organised upper chamber, or a head of state, or a supreme court, or any combination of these. There may also be a written constitution. The only one of these that WSFS has is the constitution. But if the government acts against the constitution, what can be done? Typically you go to another branch of government to rein them in. However, WSFS does not have any other branch of government. In practical terms, the only thing preventing a Worldcon committee from acting against the WSFS Constitution is the shame that will befall them if they do so.

As we are seeing in real democracies, shame is no longer an effective check on elective dictatorship. The UK is a good example. The King is effectively powerless. The House of Lords is being subverted by the Tories by the simple expedient of given lots of their corrupt buddies peerages. (This is helped by their rapid turnover of Prime Ministers, as each one gets to have a Resignation Honours List.) As for the Supreme Court, when they tried to rein in Boris Johnson, he and his allies in the media branded them “enemies of the people”. The current big issue in Parliament is the government ramming through laws that say that the UK has the power to ignore international law, specifically over the policy of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda. Rishi Sunak insists that he is doing this to protect “the will of the people”, despite opinon polls consistently showing that the people actually oppose this policy.

The Tories, at least, do have to worry about the next election. But Worldcon is an exhausting thing to run, and usually no one fan group will bid more than once every 10 years. By that time there will probably have been substantial turnover in the people involved, and fannish memories are short.

That, I’m afraid, is where we are with WSFS. Once seated, a Worldcon can pretty much do whatever it wants. There is no effective sanction on its behaviour. It is possible, and that is a separate discussion, that Chengdu had very good reasons to do at least some of what they did. But now that they have shown an apparent willingness to flout the Hugo rules, I expect future Worldcons to feel empowered to do so with no reason other than that they want to. I am, I hope obviously, very unhappy about this.

Outrage Season

We have finally got the nomination statistics for the 2023 Hugos, and understandably there is a great deal of concern being expressed. Some very strange things have gone on. Believe me, I’m not happy either.

Fairly inevitably there are plenty of people who know little about how WSFS works who assume that there must be some overriding authority who could, and should, have prevented Chengdu from doing what they have done. Kevin and I try to explain, but often we are met with incredulity because it seems crazy that any organisation would work that way. I’m not happy about how WSFS works either.

What does confuse me, however, is the way that people assume utter idiocy by those involved as the only explanation. For example, Kevin and I have been beset by demands that it is our duty to find out what happened. Do people really think that we don’t want to know? And haven’t asked? I guess they do.

Stupidity is also being ascribed to the Chengdu committee. If I wanted to fix the results of the Hugos, there are two ways I would go about it. The first is that I would put out an entirely falsified set of nomination statistics. After all, the ballots will have been destroyed by now. How would anyone know that they were false?

The other option is to simply not issue the nomination statistics at all. Sure, they are supposed to, but there is no effective comeback if you don’t do it, and the outrage at them not doing so is likely to be far less than what is happening right now.

Instead they have chosen to put out a set of nomination statistics that makes it very clear that shenanigans have taken place. Maybe we should be thinking about why they did that.

February Looms

And that means that LGBT+ History Month is on the horizon. Interest in this sort of thing seems to have waned a bit over the past few years. That’s partly because the sorts of institutions that put on events are increasingly demanding something recorded that they can use for years to come. The problem with that is that you have to ensure that your presentation is free of copyrightable images, and that takes a lot of effort. Also, of course, there’s a good chance doing such things, especially if they involve trans issues, is likely to become illegal soon, regardless of who wins the next general election.

However, the lovely folks at M-Shed in Bristol are still doing good work. They have a fine program of talks scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 24th, and only one of them is by me. Excitingly there will also be a talk by Mark and Jack, the Museum Bums boys. I’m looking forward to it. I’ll be talking about the search for trans people in Celtic Britain. OutStories Bristol has a long post about the various talks.

I will be doing a couple more talks, including one at Oxford University, and one online for a university in Canada, but I don’t yet know of anything else that will be open to the public. If something turns up, I will let you know.

Farewell Duolingo

I have cancelled my subscription to Duolingo. It has been a good run, and I think it has helped quite a bit in my efforts to learn Welsh. However, I reached the end of the Welsh course some time ago and the app isn’t teaching me much new any more. The course I’m doing through Carmarthenshire Council is now much more useful.

I was quite tempted by the music course, but it turned out to be something like a platform video game. If you don’t have the hand-eye coordination to get it right the course is a waste of time.

December Salon Futura

As I say in the editorial, this was a strange issue. For a variety of reasons most of the SF&F reading I did in December was now reviewable, but there was a bunch of other stuff that I could put in. Highlights of the December Salon Futura include:

There may be no issue in January because I still have a heap of Crawford reading to do, and work is still very busy.

Introducing Speculative Insight

On the assumption that a lot of people won’t be paying much attention to the internet over the holidays, I’ve been queueing up a bunch of posts, so apologies for the unusual flurry this week.

To begin with I’d like to draw your attention to a new online critical magazine for SF&F literature. It is called Speculative Insight, and it is edited by Alex Pierce whom you may know from Galactic Suburbia, Letters to Tiptree, Luminescent Threads, or even Locus. Alex kindly asked me to write something for her and, much to my surprise, it ended up launching the magazine.

“What is Fantasy Anyway?” is an essay-length version of the talk I did at Bristol Central Library in support of their contribution to the British Library Fantasy exhibition. It is basically me having a go at the people who are heavily invested in policing genre boundaries. Hopefully some of you will find it interesting.

Speculative Insight will continue with a mix of paid and free articles over the coming months. I’m looking forward to seeing what it produces. And remember when you look at the prices that an Australian dollar is only worth a little over 50p.

Festival Cheeseboard

Yesterday I shared a photo of my holiday feast cheeseboard on Mastodon. That’s reproduced above. I promised a blog post explaining what the various cheeses were, so here goes.

Right at the top is something that should be familiar to all of you. That’s Colston Bassett Stilton. It is widely available, and very good.

Bottom centre and right are two of my favorite cheeses: Gorwydd Caerphilly and Pitchfork Cheddar from Trethowan Dairy. The Trethowan brothers started making the Caerphilly on their family farm in West Wales, but with success came the need for better milk supply and they moved to Somerset. Their two signature cheeses thus reflect the dairy’s twin heritage. As I never tire of telling people, the Caerphilly has won the gold medal at the World Cheese Awards, so it can truly claim to be the best cheese in the world.

Bottom left is a British Brie: Baron Bigod from Fen Farm Dairy in Suffolk. My tasting notes from the cheesemonger say it has hints of wild mushroom. Can’t go wrong with that.

Centre left is something very squidgy. It is Eve, a goat’s cheese washed in Somerset cider brandy and wrapped in vine leaves. It is made by White Lake Cheese in Somerset. I’m not sure I want my cheese quite that liquid, but it certainly tastes good.

In the centre is my favourite discovery of the year. It is Witheridge in Hay, made by Nettlebed Creamery in Oxfordshire. The cheese is quite literally aged in a wrapping of hay. I’m not sure that it is quite as strong as mature cheddar as the website claims, but it is quite robust and very tasty.

Finally we have centre right which is Abaty Glas from Caws Penhelyg near Aberystwyth. It is a mild blue cheese which is again very tasty but inevitably suffers from being next to the Stilton. I think maybe I should have it earlier in the tasting sequence.

I should note that many of these cheese are made with rennet and/or unpasteurised milk, and may not be suitable for everyone.

Happy Solstice!

Because the universe is not neat and organised, it will not actually be the Solstice in the UK until a little into Friday. Today is Solstice day for the Americas though. Presumably similar issues apply in the Southern Hemisphere where it is summer. Here, however, we shall celebrate the defeat of the Dark and look forward to the return of the Light. And tomorrow night I will have a special date with a ghost horse.

Hereabouts actual Solstice celebration is being deferred until Saturday when, with any luck, I will actually get a day off work. Which is more than I can say for next week, I suspect. But that’s being freelance for you. You take the work when you can get it.

Meanwhile, here is a card for you. As usual, it is by the very talented Dru Marland. You can buy her stuff here.

Fantasy in London and Bristol

A major exhibition on Fantasy will be opening at the British Library next week (Friday 27th) and will run until Sunday, February 25th, 2024. The curation team included Neil Gaiman, Aliette de Bodard and Roz Kaveney, so you can tell it will be very good. There are a whole bunch of events planned around it as well. Full details are available here. Many of them are online. I’m particularly keen to see Natalie Haynes interviewing Susan Cooper, and the Black to the Future event. I might also try to get to London for the full day of events on December 9th (or not, it is sold out, but online is available).

For those of us out west, I am delighted to see that Bristol Central Library is joining the fun. They have a bunch of events of their own. That includes co-hosting the Neil Gaiman livestream on November 20th, but also a bunch of events of their own. The following are part of their Lunchtime Lectures series.

Thu, Nov 9, 12:30 – Fantasy and the Cotswolds – a talk by the wonderful Cathy Butler. Who knows, it might feature Juliet McKenna, given that she lives in that part of the world.

Thu, Nov 30, 12:30 – Dianna Wynne Jones – I don’t know Henrietta and Lydia Wilson, but any talk on Dianna is likley to be a lot of fun.

Thu, Nov 16, 12:30 – What is Fantasy Anyway? – Oh, that’s me. Here’s the blurb:

Literary critics and booksellers are fond of dividing books into smaller and smaller categories. Is this book epic fantasy or sword & sorcery? Urban or rural? Historical, folklore or mythological? How can we tell? Authors, however, are much more slippery than those who seek to categorise their work would like. Books tend to slip and slide between genres, not just within fantasy, but outside of it as well.

In this talk, Cheryl Morgan, will look at how books at categorized and, with the help of some fine example works, make the argument that pretty much all fiction is fantasy of a sort.

For those of you who can’t get to Bristol, this talk will be getting turned into an essay, for publication in a venue I can’t tell you about yet.

There are also a couple of events at Bedminster Library. The full list is available here.

My BristolCon Schedule

BristolCon is this weekend. Things will be happening.

Most importantly, Juliet’s book launch for The Green Man’s Quarry is FRIDAY NIGHT. I can’t see anything on the convention website that makes this clear. Juliet will not be at the convention on the Saturday, so if you want to see her, or want a personalised signing, you need to be there on Friday night.

Signed books will, of course, be available in the Dealers’ Room on Saturday. I’ll be there most of the day.

However, at 13:00 I will be in Panel Room 2 for this:

How to make AI socialist?

AI and machine learning are set to transform the knowledge economy in the same way automation changed the manual labour economy. How can society learn from the mistakes of the past in not disempowering the workforce and putting lots of people out of work?

With peter sutton, Stephen Oram, Roz Clarke and Piotr Swietlik (M)