Why Worldcons Go Wrong

There are lots of people on social media currently saying things like, “Worldcon is broken, it must be fixed” or “Worldcon is irredeemably broken, we must replace it with something new.” These are all entirely understandable sentiments, but in order to fix Worldcon, or to build a replacement, it helps to know how and why it goes wrong. In this post I want to talk about a couple of specific examples from CoNZealand.

I should start by noting that much of the problem here stems from the fact that fans all over the world, even if they have Worldcon memberships, have no sense of ownership of WSFS or the convention. They see WSFS as a nebulous “Them” rather than as “Us”. And if something goes wrong, “They” must be at fault. But who exactly “They” are, and what “They” could they have done better, is unclear.

In one sense it is absolutely true that the buck stops at the top. When you agree to chair a Worldcon you know this. There is a reason why “Friends Don’t Let Friend’s Run Worldcon” is a common fannish saying. So Kelly Buehler and Norm Cates have been spending a lot of time taking it on the chin and accepting responsibility. Sometimes they did indeed do things wrong, but knowing what to do right is not always easy.

Take the George Martin situation, for example. CoNZealand was selected as a site in 2018, and George was announced as Toastmaster at that time. The Game of Thrones TV series was hugely popular then, and George had a stellar reputation among Worldcon regulars because, unlike many famous authors, he always attended the convention, and put a lot of his own money into it. His work establishing alternative awards, The Alfies, in the midst of the Sad Puppy affair was widely praised. Few people thought CoNZealand’s choice was a mistake at the time.

Warning signs started to appear last year with the fiasco around Hugo Finalists being barred from the Hugo Losers’ Party because it was full, and being asked to stand out in the rain until there was room. George has done most of the work funding and organising these parties since the Puppy affair, and his response to what happened in Dublin was very disappointing.

There may well have been additional warning signs in the months that followed. I’m not privy to the internal discussions of the CoNZealand committee so I don’t know. So there may have been multiple points at which CoNZealand might have been tempted to disinvite George. I would certainly have considered pushing back on Robert Silverberg having any involvement in the Hugo Ceremony.

But what would have happened if they did push back? George might well have been very angry. He might have withdrawn from the convention entirely, which might have resulted in a number of people demanding membership refunds. He might have gone to the newspapers, which would have resulted in the convention being dragged through the mud all over the world. And George’s legion of fans would certainly have waged war against the convention on social media.

If you want an example of how much damage an author with a very high profile can do, take a look at what another successful fantasy author is currently doing to the trans community in the UK.

So as a con committee, what do you do if one of your Guests of Honour turns out to be a problem? If, like George, he is very high profile, you will probably keep him and hope that he won’t do anything too awful. And, if he does, that your staff can keep things under control. That’s easier said than done.

Yesterday Mary Robinette Kowal wrote a Twitter thread about her own part in the Hugo Ceremony. She’s President of SFWA, and the winner of last year’s Best Novel Hugo, so she’s not without power and prestige in the industry. She’d been asked to present the Best Novella category. This was all pre-recorded, and Mary says she’d noticed from the way George introduced her that something was up. In particular he had expanded SFWA as “The Science Fiction Writers of America” rather than “The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America”. That might have been a genuine mistake, but it is also a common Old Guard dog whistle. (There’s a whole complicated reason why SFWA is not called SFFWA). She says that she could have asked George to re-do the intro, but she didn’t want to seem difficult.

The point here is that if the President of SFWA didn’t feel confident enough to tell George he was getting it wrong, what chance did younger writers, or volunteers on the CoNZealand committee have? If I might be permitted a Railroad joke, there’s a train in motion here and it is very hard to stop. From a convention management point of view, the only thing you can do is to trust that your high profile Toastmaster does not behave too badly. In CoNZealand’s case that trust was badly betrayed.

The other issue I would like to look at is the case of panellist Edmund Schluessel who was twice asked to change his Zoom background because it was deemed “too political”. The full story, complete with an image of said background, is available on File 770 here (item 3) and here.

The first time this happened, Kelly Buehler issued an apology on behalf of the committee. She stated: “There is nothing wrong with your Zoom background, and I encourage you to use it as much as you like.” However, the staff member who had tried to censor Schluessel’s background resigned in protest. And the next time Schluessel was on panel he was once again asked to remove his background, for the same reason as before, but by a different person.

Clearly some of the ConZealand staff have gone rogue here, including ignoring a direct instruction from one of the Co-Chairs. There’s little that the convention can do at this point. All Worldcon staff are volunteers. You can’t discipline them in any effective way. If you fire someone you may find yourself with a major gap in your team, and the person that you fire may take several of his friends away with him. Possibly it was a mistake to recruit this person in the first place, but Worldcons are often desperate for staff and have little chance to vet people at lower levels.

There’s a tendency in certain quarters to sneer when people say that running Worldcon is hard, but it is, and unless you have actually done it you probably don’t understand just how hard it is. Which is not to say that people don’t make terrible mistakes, and should not be called to account for them. I can assure you that I have done that often enough in my time (ask people about TorCon 3 if you don’t believe me). However, I have always tried to do so in the hope that we can learn from our mistakes and make Worldcon better. I hope you can see from the above that fixing things, or creating an alternative, is not simply a matter of vowing to “do better”.

New Salon Futura

Here we go again. The new issue of Salon Futura went live on Wednesday night. Here’s what I have on review:

  • The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again by M John Harrison
  • Mordew by Alex Pheby
  • The Empress of Salt and Fortune by from Nghi Vo
  • Scarlet Odyssey by CT Rwizi
  • Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders by Aliette de Bodard
  • Exhalation by Ted Chiang
  • Season one of Doom Patrol

I have also written a length article about how WSFS might change to become more responsive to fans, and to help fans feel more part of the organisation. It seems to have been well-received thus far, but writing means nothing if it isn’t followed up by action.

CoNZealand Fringe – Day 1

Fringe is underway as well. We don’t quite have 24-hour programming, but there is now something for people in Europe to watch. And you can too. Claire Rousseau has created a YouTube playlist of the panels we have had thus far. You can find it here.

I only had time to watch the Modern Fanzines panel, which I thought was excellent. Here it is.

By the way, links for watching future panels are not all available yet. They will go up in good time.

Hugo Eligibility Post

It is that time of year again, so what have I been up to in 2019?.

Firstly I have published two Short Stories. They are:

Secondly, as I have now published four issues, Salon Futura is eligible in Fanzine.

Thirdly, as I write most of Salon Futura myself, I am eligible in Fan Writer.

For those just catching up on all this, the main reason why I am tossing my hat into the fan awards ring again, despite having plenty of shiny rockets to keep me company, is that interest in the Fanzine category has been waning of late. I’m hoping to boost participation. If you have a fanzine and want people to nominate it, let me know and I will signal boost for you.

(This post was updated on Dec. 9th to add the second short story.)

Lunch With Scott

One of the highlights of Worldcon for me this year was being interviewed by Scott Edelman for his podcast, Eating the Fantastic. Obviously having a long chat with Scott was fun, but the unique selling point of the podcast is that the interviews always take place over a lengthy and very good meal. The food that we had at Mr. Fox in Dublin was superb. So my heartfelt thanks to Scott and everyone who helps fund the podcast for paying for that.

The interview is now available online. You can find it on Scott’s blog, and doubtless on various podcast apps as well. It is more than 2 hours long, but hopefully there are ways you can take it in a bit at a time.

I’ve listened through the whole thing. There’s only one issue that I want to come back to right now, and that’s because it became the subject of a Twitter storm soon after Worldcon. In the interview I talk about the need for Worldcon to put more content online. Obviously there are issues with this, but there are many different ways in which it could be done, some of which address those issues. Sadly Twitter discussions tend to polarise very rapidly, with people assuming the absolute worst possible of any idea they attack. I do plan to write more about this issue in Salon Futura. Please wait for that before jumping in and telling me what an awful misogynist I am.

Whither Fanzine?

This year’s Hugo Administrator, Nicholas Whyte, has written a lengthy blog post looking at some of the interesting features of this year’s voting. The thing that sticks out to me most obviously from the post is his comments on the Fanzine category.

The lack of enthusiasm for Best Fanzine is notable. We were surprisingly close to not giving a Best Fanzine award in both 2019 Hugos and 1944 Retro Hugos this year. The total first preference votes for Best Fanzine finalists other than No Award in both cases was 26.9% of the total number of votes cast overall (833/3097 and 224/834).

The threshold is 25%, so with 59 fewer votes for 2019 or 16 fewer votes for 1944 we would have had to No Award the category. Best Fanzine was also the category with the best percentage for No Award in the final runoff for both 2019 and 1944. (84.4% in 2019, 81.7% in 1944.)

On Twitter Aidan Moher has been calling for more appreciation for video fanzines. (Booktube appears to be the name for such things.) People making them certainly deserve recognition, but they belong in the Fancast category which is for:

Any generally available non-professional audio or video periodical devoted to science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects

Aidan also suggests collapsing Fanzine and Fancast to create a single category of fan-created works. Much as I would like to see fewer Hugo categories, I can’t see that happening. Neither the podcast people nor fanzine fandom would be happy.

There is, of course, also the question of what we are judging. Abi Brady mischieviously suggested that we also collapse Best Novel and BDP: Long Form, which makes the point very neatly. The trouble is that on the Internet it is very easy to mix media. Most “newspapers” already include video and podcasts in their websites. When I started Salon Futura I deliberately set out to include all three formats: text, audio and video.

But that doesn’t solve the problem. What shall we do about Poor Little Fanzine? Well for starters you should all be nominating Rachel Cordasco’s magnificent Speculative Fiction in Translation. Hopefully we can also get a lot of folks doing fanzine reviews between now and the next nominating deadline. And finally, Salon Futura is still a thing. It is no longer semi-pro because I can’t afford to pay people. The website desperately needs a re-vamp. If I were to put all my book reviews and con reports on there, and maybe give it some sort of issue structure, it would most definitely be a fanzine. And then you would all have to rush around finding other fanzines to vote for, because no one wants me winning any more Hugos, do they?

(And yes, it would still include audio. You can’t expect me to pass up the chance to mess with the category police.)

The WSFS Agenda

With Worldcon almost upon us, it is time once more to descend into that pit of despair, the WSFS Business Meeting. What delights of Parliamentary Procedure are in store for us this year?

The Agenda for this year’s Business Meetin is available here. There doesn’t seem to be anything urgent to debate on Friday. The days when it was necessary to pack the Friday meeting to prevent conservative fans from squashing important motions with Objection to Consideration motions seem to be finally over. Besides, there’s nothing I’m desperate to see get discussed.

Much of the main business, which will be debated on Saturday morning, is either ratification of items passed in San José, or clean-up of the Constitution. The Nit-Picking & Fly-Specking Committee has been doing its usual fine job of spotting side effects of new regulations and quietly proposing simple ways of bringing everything into line. However, there are a couple of new proposals that will doubtless spark debate.

Motion D1: Clarification of Worldcon Powers, is a NP&FS Motion, but it is one that is personally important to me. What it does it make it clear than an individual Worldcon has no power over the Hugo Awards from previous years, administered by other Worldcons. For years after I won my first Hugo, people were saying that an “error” had been made, and that the award should be rescinded because I should never have been allowed on the ballot in the first place. I don’t want this to happen to other people.

Motion D7: Five and Five, would remove the system of having 6 finalists each year. This was put in place as one of the anti-Puppy measures. Those who study the voting figures claim that is has very little effect, and the EPH system is sufficient protection going forward. But why remove it? I have heard people saying that it is just to make life easier for Hugo Administrators. I don’t think that’s the argument being made. The main issues are the amount of reading that has to be done by voters, and the size of the pre-Hugo reception. In practice 6 finalists isn’t a huge problem for voters except in categories that involve novels. But with the Lodestar we have two novel categories, and we have Series which is a nightmare for voters to judge fairly. So there’s something of a point there. As to the reception, this has always been a nightmare for Worldcons, both in terms of the expense and finding a suitable venue that is both large enough and close enough to the auditorium. That nightmare will have been getting steadily worse as we have added more categories. I can quite see why those who run the event hate the 6 Finalists rule.

Motion D9: Non-transferability of Voting Rights, is one that I think will divide the meeting. I can see merits both ways. Personally I am generally in favour of anything that strengthens the bond between the member and WSFS. People buying a membership of Worldcon tend to see themselves as members of that Worldcon, not members of WSFS, when in fact they are both. Obviously there will be old time fans who will see this as creeping corporatisation of WSFS, but I think the time when a cry of, “To the Barricades! No WSFS Inc!!!”, could pack the meeting are long gone. Where I think this motion will attract opposition is from people who see it as taking away their right to re-sell their voting rights, which it does. But as long as membership of WSFS is relatively cheap I don’t have a problem with that. It will enlarge the voter pool, which is a good thing.

There may be some very convoluted arguments about whether Supporting Memberships and WSFS Memberships are, or should be, the same thing. It is complicated.

Motion D11: Clear Up the Definition of Public in the Artist Categories Forever, is all very well in theory, but is certainly not going to achieve what it says on the tin. There are always going to be new wrinkles in definitions as long as the pro/fan distinction exists. All we can hope for is that this reduces the number of issues. I have no idea whether it will.

Motion D12: Best Translated Novel, is one I’d like to speak to if I am still at the meeting (I have a 12:00 appointment elsewhere). No one I know in the translation community is in favor of this. Neil Clarke has laid into it here. Knowing how much the WSFS community hates the idea of a work being eligible in more than one Hugo category, I fully expect there to be an amendment to this proposal that would also bar translated novels from the Novel category, and possibly Series and the Lodestar as well. Even if such an amendment doesn’t get through, I think that the existence of this category will encourage people to think that translated works are not eligible for any other Hugo category. It is hard enough now to persuade people that they are eligible, even though they always have been. We don’t want to be stuck in a ghetto, so please don’t pass this.

Motion D13: Best Game or Interactive Experience, is something I think will have to happen at some stage in some form. I’m not a sufficient expert on the game industry to tell whether this is a good solution or not. Given that the last trial of a game category was 13 years ago, I’d like to see a trial category run before we make anything like this permanent.

London Bound

In a week and a bit’s time I will be in London for a couple of decidedly Queer events.

On Saturday 17th I will be at the Fringe! Queer Film Festival for a showing of TransGeek, a documentary film about trans people who also happen to be geeks. I’m one of the people interviewed in the film. Roz Kaveney and I will be on hand to answer questions afterwards, as will the film’s Director, Kevin McCarthy.

On Sunday 18th I will be at the National Maritime Museum as part of their Lost in a Book literary festival. Roz and I, together with Sacha Coward from the NMM, will be hosting a discussion on Queer Futurism. As the blurb says: “This is an informal chance to talk about LGBTQ+ representations in science fiction and fantasy. We want to imagine what a queer-inclusive future might look like.”

If you happen to be in the area and fancy popping along to either of these, I would love to see you.

Chairman Standlee Speaks – Naming the WSFS YA Award

As many of you will know, Kevin will be chairing the WSFS Business Meeting at Worldcon in Helsinki this year. One of the items that will come up is the naming of the proposed YA Award. Last year a motion to create the award was given first passage, and will therefore be up for ratification this year. At the time the name of the award was left blank to allow for consultation with fandom. This year’s Business Meeting will have to decide how to deal with that; in particular it will have to decide whether it is OK to just add a name without going through the whole two-year approval process.

The chances are that whatever Kevin rules there will be a challenge to his ruling. I say that because a) the whole question is quite complicated (Ben Yalow has his own view on how the Constitution should be interpreted), and b) those opposed to having a YA Award will doubtless use every excuse available to disrupt things because that’s the way politics works. However, so that the meeting can proceed as smoothly as possible without need for lengthy explanations, Kevin has set out his reasoning for how he will rule on his LiveJournal. If you have any questions, you can ask them there.

GUFF Deadline Approaches

I’ve not had a lot of time to think about things like fan funds of late, but I did get a few hours off last weekend and I used some of that to catch up on episodes of Galactic Suburbia. This reminded me that there is a GUFF race in progress, and that I’m actually a nominator for one of the candidates. Originally I agreed to nominated Alisa Krasnostein and Alex Pierce, but Alisa has made the difficult decision to drop out because of the current insanity regarding international travel. If I had two very young kids I’d have made the same decision. Alex, however, is still running, and you have until April 17th to vote for her. There are other candidates as well, of course, but I’m a loyal nominator and want to support my candidate. Alex is awesome, vote for her.

Full details as to how to vote can be found here. See you in Helsinki, Alex.

We Have Hugo Finalists

Those of you who have not been following social media all afternoon may not yet have spotted the Hugo Award Finalist list. You can find it on Locus.

All in all it seems a very good list with many categories that are going to be hotly contested and very few Puppies. The list for Best Series looks very strong, which bodes well for the category in the future.

I am particularly delighted to see Ninni Aalto get a nod for Best Fan Artist. As far as I can see she’s the only Finn on the ballot. Please vote for her. Of course having only one Finn, and only one translated work, on the ballot is not a good result for a Worldcon in a non-English-speaking country. (Edit: sorry, two Finns; Vesa Lehtimäki is the other one.)

It is criminal that Lee Harris hasn’t got on the ballot. Hopefully he’s been cheered up by getting four of the six Novella slots for Tor.com publications.

There are two openly trans people on the Best Novel ballot, which is frankly amazing.

Thankfully I have read a lot of the nominees, because I don’t have much reading time now with the Tiptree stuff coming in. There are some on there I am very much looking forward to reading.

And that’s all I can think of headline-wise for now. Except for one thing. Why, Cheryl, you might be asking, did you point people at the Locus website for the list of finalists? Why not point them to the official Hugo Awards site which, you know, you actually maintain? Well, that’s because the Helsinki Hugo Admin team, in their wisdom, decided not to let the official Hugo Award website have any sight of the results. They didn’t even send us the press release after the awards were announced. It takes a while to format a web post from that data, and Kevin has only just had a chance to check what I’ve done. I’m going to go and put that live now.

Normally I’d put such things down to incompetence, but Kevin had been trying to get sight of the information for some time because he’s normally very busy at work during the time the announcement was made. Given that, I can only put this down to spite. Here’s hoping we have better luck trying to get the live coverage of the award ceremony done.

Update: Had a lovely email from Jukka. One of the frustrations of being a Worldcon chair is that the organization is way too big for you to know what goes on. You can have all of the good intentions in the world, and then someone at a lower level decides that they know better. I’ve seen this first hand watching Kevin do the job. It is doubtless harder with a multi-national team. Anyway, I feel a lot more confident about the ceremony coverage now.

Some WSFS Issues

A couple of things to do with Worldcon have cropped up over the past week or so that I’d like to address.

Firstly people have been asking if WSFS will move the 2018 Worldcon out of the USA because of Trump. This is, of course, not up to WSFS. That Worldcon has been awarded to San José and can’t be taken away. However, I am on the Board of Directors for the San José event so I have a view. Being barred from entering the US myself, my view is somewhat biased.

The location doesn’t become a major issue for many months yet because hotel booking isn’t open. Lots of things could happen between then and now (up to and including Trump starting WWIII). But we are aware of the issue and will be discussing it at the next Board meeting. As Kevin has noted, 2018 is likely to be the only US Worldcon in a 4-year period, so it is by no means unfair to have it somewhere that only USians may be able to attend. That said, we do need to be aware of a potential financial disaster, and need to have contingency plans to hold the convention elsewhere. If it proves necessary, we’ll make a formal announcement, but despite my own travel woes I hope it won’t because I love my US friends dearly and would like them to get their country back.

The other thing that has raised its head is the issue of being a “Hugo nominee”. As most of you will know, that phrase is fairly meaningless because anyone can nominate themselves and therefore become a “nominee”. The important word is “finalist”, and you can only call yourself a “Hugo finalist” if you get on the final ballot.

It is worth noting that WSFS only notifies people of their receipt of a nomination by issuing the voting data. That will show you the top 15 nominees in each category (plus a few in the case of ties). If someone claims that they got email from WSFS informing them that they were nominated they are either fibbing or they are referring to the email you get confirming who you voted for, which means they nominated themselves.

And finally, if you get an email from someone claiming to represent the “Worldcon PR Department” then it is almost certainly a fake. Kevin or I, and a few others folks, may write to people on behalf of WSFS, but never on behalf of Worldcon because each Worldcon is an independent entity.

R.I.P. Peter Weston

Yesterday evening news started to come in that Peter Weston had died. I had to go to bed before we got confirmation, but Kevin did a post for the Hugo Awards website here. Locus also has a brief obituary.

Peter will always be most famous in fandom as the man who created the modern Hugo Award trophy (the rocket bit, the base is different each year), but he was also a noted fanzine editor, con runner (including chairing a Worldcon) and editor. He was also one of the nicest people I have met among old-time UK fans. I didn’t know him that well, but what I did know made me wish I had known him better.

Saving Hugo

Worldcon is almost upon us for another year. I am looking forward to having to be up half the night on Saturday to help Kevin and Mur Lafferty host the text-based coverage of the Hugo Award Ceremony. There will also, of course, be a Business Meeting, where thoughts once again will turn to saving Hugo.

Just about everyone is agreed, I think, that poor little Hugo needs to be saved from the Hideous Puppy Hordes. Unfortunately, just as no one seems to be able to agree on what Brexit means (other than that it means “Brexit”, as our Prime Minister so sagely put it), no one seems to be able to agree what saving Hugo means.

There are people who are perfectly happy with the status quo, pointing out that whenever a Puppy-dominated category pops up we can just whack it with a No Award. There are people who will be happy if there can just be one or two finalists in each category that are worth voting for. There are those who want all Puppy picks expunged from the ballot. And there are those who want the Puppies nuked from orbit, both in the present, at all times in the past, and in the future from now until eternity. The solutions required to produce these outcomes are not the same.

It is also true that people can’t agree on what a “Puppy pick” means. Does it include works promoted by the Sads? If so that can be a lot of potential finalists, as this year the Sads tried to do the right thing and build a recommendation list. Does it mean everything on the Rabids slate? That could be a problem, because VD has got into the habit of including some hot favorites on his list so that he can claim to have “won” when those works take the rocket. It is not an easy decision.

Sadly it is not possible to build an automated system that will correctly remove all Puppy picks from the ballot, if only because people can’t agree on what a Puppy pick is. There are those, of course, who think this is an argument for human intervention. “I know a Puppy pick when I see one,” they say. Well yes, you might, but does everyone agree with you?

All of this talk of having people whose job it is to decide which works are worthy of being a Hugo finalist and which are not makes me very nervous. Why? Because I remember people insisting that Emerald City be removed from the ballot. And then when it won demanding that the “Hugo Committee” correct the obvious error and take back my Hugo. Putting someone in charge of deciding what is Hugo-worthy and what isn’t will make it possible for those sorts of demands to be acceded to. Regardless of whether you think I deserved any Hugos or not, I hope you will agree that giving someone that power has the potential to go very badly wrong.

There is a proposal on the agenda (“Additional Finalists”) to give Hugo Administrators the power to add finalists to the ballot, which has less potential for abuse. I think it is important that these issues be debated, but I think they are way more complex than most people think. Currently Hugo Administrators are not expected to have any view on the merits of the works. Giving them that power would change the nature of the job, change who would want to have the job, and ask serious questions about how people were appointed to the job.

Another suggested means of combatting the Puppies is to place new restrictions on who is allowed to vote. There are two proposals aimed at stripping nominating rights away from some of the people who currently have them. Whether this would affect the Puppies or not depends on how willing they are to spend money to get their voting rights. If they are prepared to buy a Supporting Membership each year then it will not restrain them at all. We extended nominating rights to try to encourage more people to take part in the first stage of the ballot. If we take those rights away again, fewer people will nominate, and those people who claim that voting in the Hugos is too expensive will have more of a case.

Up for ratification this year are the two proposals from last year that aim to curtail the power of slate voting. These are “E Pluribus Hugo” (EPH) and “4 and 6”. It has been argued that “EPH” is the better of these because if the Puppies have enough numbers, money and discipline then they can still dominate the entire ballot under “4 and 6”. This is true, though we don’t know whether they are capable of doing that.

On the flip side, “EPH” is less transparent. I can guarantee that if it is implemented then in future everyone who has a beef about the final ballot will complain that they were unfairly discriminated against by it. I have no concerns about the math because I trust the people putting it forward, but I do think it is important that fandom understands what it will do. It is becoming clear that many people thought it would remove all of the Puppy picks from the final ballot, and that’s certainly not the case.

Then we come to a new proposal called “Three Stage Voting”. Do we really need another method to pick from? Well perhaps we do.

Before I get into discussing the details of the proposal I want to address the complaint that having three stages of voting massively increases the workload for Hugo Administrators. It will certainly mean another set of ballots to count, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a 50% increase in work load. Here’s why.

Counting should be a mostly electronic process. These days vast majority of ballots are submitted online and are validated and counted by software. Much of the work involved in Hugo administration revolves around checking eligibility of likely finalists, checking who should get the credit for those works, and sorting out situations where people have nominated the same work under a variety of different names. There have been some embarrassing screw-ups in these areas in the fairly recent past.

As I understand it, the proposal is that the long list generated by the new stage of voting could be less thoroughly checked, and that fandom at large could have some input into the checking process. This would actually reduce the work for the Administrators. In addition, of course, any withdrawals would take place at this stage rather than the final ballot.

One of the proposed benefits of the new system is that it could potentially remove all of the Puppy picks entirely. That’s because it allows the voters, all of them, to make that decision as to whether a work is worthy or not. I think that’s a solution that is far more in keeping with the traditions of the Hugos than appointing a jury. It has been argued that under this system the Puppies would be able to vote off any works they didn’t like. However, that assumes that the Puppies make up at least 60% of the people voting. If that’s the case I think they have won anyway.

By the way, I don’t think that down-voting is a necessary part of the proposal. As long as the majority of voters are non-Puppies, up-voting should be sufficient to produce a decent final ballot when there are only 15 choices. Down-voting will, of course, make those people who want to the ability to vent happy.

However, the thing that interests me most about this proposal is that it directly addresses the problem with the current system, which is not the Puppies, but the way in which the nominating ballot works.

All awards need a means of getting the list of finalists down to manageable proportions. There are vast numbers of novels published each year, and even more short stories. In the case of the Hugos, because eligibility extends to works published anywhere in the world, in any language, the pool of potential finalists is truly vast.

Different methods are used to thin the herd. The British Science Fiction Association and British Fantasy Society allow their members to make the picks before opening voting up to a wider pool of convention attendees. The Clarke Award charges publishers for the right to enter their contest. The Locus Awards has a pool of experts (of whom I am one) charged with picking the long lists. The Hugos use the nominating ballot, and this does not work well for a variety of reasons:

  1. Voter tastes can vary widely, leading to a large number of works all getting a small number of nominations;
  2. This makes the process possible to game by a small, determined group who decide to all vote for the same works;
  3. Every year, despite being continually reassured that this is not the case, large numbers of people recuse themselves from voting claiming that they are “not qualified” to participate.

The three stage system won’t do away with the problems of the nominating ballot, but it will provide a filter on the results of that ballot to control which works get onto the final ballot. Because people will have a limited number of items to vote on, we won’t have the issue of way too many things to pick from. The power of block voting will be much reduced. And most importantly potential voters won’t get that “rabbit in the headlights” feeling they have when faced with an entirely blank nomination ballot. In the second stage, no one will have to “be familiar with the entire field” (as if anyone ever could be), and that should encourage participation.

People have often asked why WSFS doesn’t produce an official recommendation list. The answer is that we’d have to appoint someone to compile it. What three-stage voting does is turn the nominating ballot into a process to create a crowd-sourced recommendation list. Just as works with get the fewest nominations of the finalists can go on to win once more people are aware of them, so I think three-stage voting will allow some of the works in the 6-15 positions in the nominating ballot to gain more attention and possibly make the final ballot.

I’m not 100% convinced by any of these solutions, if only because I don’t think fandom really knows what sort of a fix it wants. Given that, I think it is more important that we give ourselves options to react quickly next year if whatever gets implemented this year doesn’t work out as intended. I can’t be at the Business Meeting, but if I could be this is what I’d be advocating:

  1. We decide which of “EPH” and “4 and 6” to ratify for next year (I prefer 4 and 6, but your mileage may vary), but require it to be re-ratified next year;
  2. We postpone ratification of the other one until next year so it can be implemented for 2018 if required;
  3. We pass “Three Stage Voting” as well so that is also available for implementation in 2018.

Kevin notes that “EPH” and “4 and 6” are not incompatible. We could pass both. I’m not competent to judge whether this would result in elimination of more Puppy picks than “EPH” alone, but I am sure that someone can work it out.

I note in passing that the three-stage voting proposal effectively makes nominations “5 and 15”.

There are lots of other items of business on the agenda. My very best wishes to Jared Dashoff who has a challenging task ahead of him in his first time as Chair. I don’t have firm views on all of the measures, but I do have a couple I would like to highlight.

Firstly please do ratify the “Electronic Signature” motion, which will allow online voting in site selection. It is ridiculous that we allow online voting for the Hugos but not for site selection.

Secondly I’m really impressed with the creative solution that the YA Hugo Committee has come up with. Doubtless some people in the YA field will get all irate about their award being “Not a Hugo”, but by making a proposal for a separate award the YA Committee has neatly sidestepped all of the arguments about exactly how a YA category in the Hugos should be defined, and how to avoid a work winning two Hugos in the same year. I’d like to see their proposal given a try.

SHIELD and Puppies

I was watching the latest (for the UK) episode of Agents of SHIELD last night. This was one featuring a group of inhuman-hating bigoted thugs who call themselves The Watchdogs. I noticed that everyone kept referring to them as “Puppies”. This has to be a coincidence, right? I mean, why would anyone writing a science fiction show associate the idea of puppies with spreading hatred?

TAFF News

The Trans Atlantic Fan Fund has published its latest newsletter. It includes a brief report on Nina Horvath’s adventures in the USA. It also has the announcement of the 2016 race. Unusually the administrators have taken the decision to hold another Europe – North America race next year. That will allow a European fan to attend Worldcon 74 in Kansas City, and a North American fan to attend Worldcon 75 in Helsinki in 2017.

By the way, the Kansas folks have announced their Hugo Award Base competition, so if you are up for designing one you need to check out the submission guidelines here. The deadline is January 18th.

It’s Not Your Lawn

On Friday Kevin got a bit grumpy with old-time fans who assume that announcements about Worldcon should cater only to Worldcon regulars. Quite right too. If you want a community — any community — to grow and prosper, then you have to encourage new people to get involved. And you won’t get that if all of your communications assume a high level of insider knowledge. The Helsinki Worldcon campaign was a breath of fresh air in the way that it has encouraged new people to become part of the WSFS community. I very much hope that the San José bid continues that process.

Funds for Rochita Appeal

Many of you will know Rochita Loenen-Ruiz. She’s a lovely, generous person as well as a great writer. A few days ago her partner suffered a heart attack, and late last night the doctors gave up hope and turned off life support. Aliette de Bodard has set up an appeal on GoFundMe to raise money for Rochita to help her and her young sons through this difficult time. Many of Rochita’s friends from around the SF&F community have donated books to be used as rewards, all of which will go into a draw for donors at the end of the appeal. There are currently a couple of ebook bundles from Wizard’s Tower in there, and there may be more added once I have had a chance to talk to the authors. Please do consider donating if you can. Rochita’s blog explaining the situation and giving thanks for the support received thus far is here.