Fixing the Hugos

As I can’t travel to the USA I won’t be able to attend this year’s WSFS Business Meeting. That means I don’t get to have a direct say in what gets done about Puppygate. So I am going to write about what I think needs to be done here in the hope that it might sway some people who do have a vote.

Before I get onto the actual Puppy-related motions, however, there are a bunch of other pieces of business that also deserve attention. The full text of all motions can be found on the Sasquan website.

Business Passed On from Loncon 3

A.1 Popular Ratification

I still believe that the 3-year timescale that was forced into this motion at Loncon 3 is a bad thing, but overall the idea of popular ratification is a good thing. The vast majority of fans cannot afford to go to every Worldcon. Giving those who can’t attend a stake in the convention’s governance is a something we need to work towards, and small steps are better than no steps at all.

Also all of the material about electronic voting is a Very Good Thing. I know Sasquan tried to make site selection available online, but the process was unnecessarily complicated and needs to change.

A.2 A Story By Any Other Name

Pass it. This is an amendment designed to ensure that things like the unfair exclusion of Mary Robinette Kowal’s “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” never happen again. (The whole affair should also serve as a warning against activist Hugo Administrators. You may well think they’d be great for combatting Puppies, but what happens when they use their powers to do things you don’t like?)

A.3 Hugo Finalists

Pass it. This is a sad but necessary change in terminology brought on by people who describe themselves as “Hugo nominees” because they have sent in a ballot nominating their work.

A.4 WSFS Membership Types and Rates

Kick it out. This is an attempt to prevent Worldcons from offering a cheap “Voting Membership” in order to encourage participation in the Hugos. We need to do everything we can to encourage participation. It may be that voting memberships are a bad thing, but they have never been tried and I take a dim view of anything that tries to ban an innovation before it can be tested.

New Resolutions

B.2.1 I Remember the Future & B.2.2 Hugo Eligibility Extension for Predestination

These are both requests to extend the availability of works due to limited distribution. I know nothing about either work, but generally films that do well on the festival circuit and then go on to do well in DVD sales ought to get a second chance. WSFS members generally do not attend film festivals, and so don’t see the works premiered there.

B.2.3 Hugo Nominating Data Request

This is a request for some (anonymized) data from this year’s Hugos to help people decide what to do about Puppygate. I have no objection, but the Hugo Administrators might.

B.2.4 Open Source Software

On the face of it, this is a fairly reasonable request. It is asking that any software used by a Worldcon (excluding anything that is a commercial product and legally protected) have its source code be made available for inspection. Obviously we want Worldcons to use good quality software, but this Resolution is a disaster waiting to happen.

Two of the less good things about fandom are the tendency to busybodying and the habit of fans to believe that they know far more about any subject than anyone else. If this Resolution passes then it will be possible for anyone who wants to make a nuisance of themselves to demand access to code developed by Worldcons, to suggest amendments to that code, and to demand that the Worldcon in question either incorporate those changes or justify not doing so. It will be a nightmare for the people actually doing the work.

In the past I have helped build the website for a Worldcon. I wouldn’t do it under the conditions of this resolution. Everything you put on a website is effectively code, even if it is just a blog post. I do not want to have countless arguments with concerned fans about religious issues in HTML and CSS.

There are better ways of improving the software that Worldcons use. The first is that if you have real development skills then you can get involved with Worldcon committees and help write the software that they use. The second is that Worldcons should make a point of developing code that can be re-used every year. There should be no more of this re-inventing everything from scratch each year because someone on the committee is a software nerd who insists that everything ever written by any previous Worldcon is useless and he has to write his own versions. That’s largely a matter for Worldcon chairs to enforce, but IT policy is a question that can be put to bids, and the Business Meeting can set up a Software Development Committee to help pass on code from one year to the next.

B.2.5 MPC Funding

The better known the Hugos and Worldcon become, the more people trying to monetize fandom try to steal our service marks. If people want those marks to be defended, it will cost money. In terms of the overall Worldcon budget, the amounts being discussed are very small, and haven’t changed since the 1980s. This Resolution basically puts a little bit more money into the defense fund. Please support it. It will make Kevin’s life much easier.

Constitutional Amendments

I’m going to take these mostly from the bottom up, leaving the serious anti-Puppy stuff until last.

B.1.8 Electronic Signatures

This seeks to remove one of the excuses that the forces of conservatism might seek to use in order to prevent online voting. That sounds like a good thing.

B.1.7 Two-Year Eligibility

This is daft, and discriminatory. Please kick it out.

To start with the whole notion is stupid. The proposers of the motion effectively say that the science fiction field is too big for anyone to get a grasp of it all in one year, so Hugo eligibility must be extended to two years to give us all time to read everything. Have they any idea how many books get published each year? Let alone short stories. And fanzines. And…

Not to mention the fact that in the second year a whole lot more material gets published, which you also have to read.

In addition the proposal wrecks one of the basic principles of Hugo Award Internationalism. Worldcon has always recognized that the majority of voters come from the USA, and that therefore a work not published in English, and/or not published in the USA, is at a disadvantage. Also US voters would be prevented from nominating works they may love if they don’t find out about them until they get US publication and the work was no longer eligible.

So, the way things work at the moment is that works get up to three shots at eligibility: on first publication; on first publication in English; and on first publication in the USA. Obviously for some works two of those, or all three, are in the same year, but for others they can all be different years.

This proposal would change that. All works in English would get two years of eligibility, but those would be consecutive, regardless of country of publication.

What does this mean? Consider a work published in English in Australia in 2015, and again in the USA in 2018. Under the existing rules it gets two years of eligibility: 2016 and 2019. Under the new rules it also gets two years, but 2016 and 2017. By the time the book appears in the US market its eligibility will have been burned.

To repeat, this is a bad proposal. Please kick it out.

B.1.6 Nominee Diversity

This is what you might call the anti-Doctor Who motion. The idea is to prevent the Dramatic Presentation: Short Form category being filled up with episodes all taken from the same series. The motion would limit any such dominant series to two finalist slots. It would also prevent any given author from having more than two stories in any of the fiction categories, which may make it partly an anti-Puppy measure.

I have a certain amount of sympathy with this, but for reasons I shall explain in detail later I am generally opposed to rules which try to kick specific works off the final ballot when they have received enough votes to get there. It gives people the excuse to claim that the system is rigged against them. So I think I’d vote No on this one.

B.1.5 Multiple Nominations

Despite the title, this is not the same thing as B.1.6. Rather this proposal seeks to prevent a single work from being a finalist in more than one category. The commentary suggests that under the current rules a work could be a finalist in, for example, Related Work and Fancast. This is traditionally something that we have relied on Administrators to be activist about, but they may be less inclined to be so these days. Also having this rule explicitly stated removes one of the more common objections to a YA category. Part of me says that this rule is only needed because categories are badly specified, but perfection is never easy. On balance I think I’d vote for this.

B.1.3 Best Series

Now that the Trojan Horse langauge for getting rid of Novelette has been removed, this proposal is far less odious. I’m still not convinced that we need a Hugo category for ongoing series, though. When it was first proposed I saw a number of authors suggesting that it was a bad thing even without the Novelette nonsense. I’d want to hear the debate on this, but my instinct is to vote against.

B.1.2 The Five Percent Solution

This would get rid of the rule that requires that a work get at least 5% of the votes in order to make the final ballot. That rule is the reason why there have been fewer than five finalists in Short Story a number of times recently.

It is possible that if this rule were put in place we’d end up with 10 or more finalists in Short Story. However, the restriction causes a lot of upset amongst people who feel that they or their friends have been unfairly left off the ballot. Let’s give this a try for a while, and see what happens. If people get even more upset about large numbers of finalists than they did about works being excluded we can always revert. This may be a case for a sunset clause (that is, adding an amendment that says the change goes away after x years unless a Business Meeting votes to make it permanent).

B.1.1 4 and 6 and B.1.4 E Pluribus Hugo (Out of the Many, a Hugo)

I have lumped these two proposals together because they are both aimed at reducing the effectiveness of so-called Slate Voting, in which an organized group all put exactly the same works on their ballot. As such, these are both anti-Puppy measures.

4 and 6 simply adds an extra finalist slot to each category, while simultaneously restricting voters to nominating four works instead of 5. This would make it much more difficult for a slate to work. A simple slate could only get 4 works out of 6 onto each finalist list. Of course it is possible for a well-organized and well-supported slate to distribute votes in such a way as to gain all six finalist places, but that would require more work by the slate organizer and more supporters of the slate.

E Pluribus Hugo is a much more sophisticated approach, relying on a mathematical algorithm to detect slate voting patterns and disqualify works deemed to have benefited from slate voting. I have no doubt that it is a more robust solution to the Puppy problem. I also urge you to vote against it, and for 4 and 6 instead. Here’s why.

Many of the problems that afflict the Hugos are situations that large numbers of people deem “unfair”. Any time the Award rules get complicated you can bet that someone will call them “unfair”, especially if the rule leads to a work missing out on a finalist slot when it got enough votes to be there. So, for example, the 5% Rule is widely deemed “unfair” because it means that short stories that might otherwise have been finalists are denied that honor. You can bet that if an episode of Doctor Who were kicked off the final ballot because the Nominee Diversity proposal got passed then Who fans would be furious about how “unfair” this was.

Even the instant runoff system of vote counting in the final ballot is deemed “unfair” by some people. I have sat through far too many Chris Garcia rants about how instant runoff is unfair and un-American and the Hugo should always go the work that gets the most first preference votes like in proper elections.

So my concern is that if we adopt E Pluribus Hugo what will happen in the future is that whenever a work gets disqualified under that rule there will be a huge fuss about how the Hugos are fixed in favor of some special interest group. Because most people won’t be able to understand the theory on which E Pluribus Hugo is based (and for sure I don’t), this accusation of unfairness will be widely believed, even though it is correctly defending against slate voting.

If you think I’m over-reacting here, consider that Open Source Software resolution. You might wonder why it is there. Surely people aren’t actually worried about websites, or registration software. Nope. My guess is that it is there precisely because people don’t trust the code that will be used to implement E Pluribus Hugo and want to be able to check it.

In contrast, the 4 and 6 proposal is simple, straightforward, and easy to understand. Crucially it will never result in a work that otherwise had sufficient votes to become a finalist being disqualified. Therefore it will not result in future dramas that will have people sympathizing with a slate voting campaign.

If that doesn’t convince you, consider this. The Hugos are often criticized for being snobby and elitist (particularly by the Puppies). In response to that, what sort of idiot proposes a Constitutional Amendment with a Latin title? It is the very epitome of saying, “we are smarter than you, go away”. I don’t think that WSFS should behave like that.

Update: I have further thoughts about the two anti-Puppy motions here. As I explain, I now favor passing both of them this year.

Finally I’d like to note that the only real defense against the Puppies and groups like them is to get more people to participate in the Hugos, especially at the nominations stage. We’ve had a huge increase in participation this year. Let’s do everything we can to keep those people involved, and to get more people voting. This will probably mean that it is even less likely that works I like will become finalists, let alone win, but I’ll take that. If you want to have a high profile, international, fan-voted award then you have to accept a wide degree of participation; you can’t restrict the process to “people like us”.

Ignorance On Display

Today SF Signal put up a post titled, “Where Are All The People of Color in Sci-Fi/Fantasy?”. It’s a crappy title, but a decent article that has some good stats on just how badly people of color are excluded by the genre publishing industry.

The comments, on the other hand, produced an absolute classic of pompous, ignorant nonsense. If you don’t want to click through and read the whole thing, here’s a taster:

Based on what I’ve said, other cultures/races, seem primitive as they tend to be “grounded” on Earth. That mixed with the tendency for many ethnic groups being associated with crime, low tech living, and a lack of interesting folk history makes white people dismiss their existence and see it as a “primitive” remnant of Earth. Thus, they don’t tend to have evolved into the future in countless stories, but likely died out somewhere in the distant past.

You could probably write an entire thesis on racism just based on that comment, but I don’t have time to do that. I’m even going to be generous and note that lots of Americans are ignorant about countries beyond their borders, so the commenter isn’t that unusual in that respect. But he claims to be an expert on African-American culture, and he claims that African-American people have no interest in science fiction or fantasy.

Space is the Place

Mothership Connection

Thriller

The Archandroid

I rest my case.

Silly Season Approaches

Worldcon is now less than two weeks away, so all of fandom is busy limbering up ready to take to the Internet and explain how everything about the convention, and the Hugos, is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!!

As regular readers will know, Kevin and I are a key part of the secret cabal of Old White Men who conspire to oppress women, queer folk, people of color, young people, and, well, just about everyone really. We use our powers to ensure that the Hugos only ever go to old-fashioned, deeply conservative works, thereby assuring that they are totally out of touch with what the majority of fans are reading.

Of course we have been part of that conspiracy for a long time. This year, however, we have Puppies. And that means a whole new conspiracy. Now we are also a key part of a secret cabal of Commie Pinko Feminazi Faggots who conspire to oppress straight cis white men who live in their parents’ basements. We use our powers to ensure that the Hugos only ever go to politically correct nonsense, thereby assuring that they are totally out of touch with what the majority of fans are reading.

Both sides are busy crafting their spin so that they can respond immediately to the inevitable outrage. Or claim victory. Or both. I suspect that we will see the following.

– Regardless of the actual results of the Hugos, Little Teddy will claim that what happened was what he had planned all along, and that he has WON! Ha! That will show all of the people who laughed at him and didn’t acknowledge his genius.

– Someone will write a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger article for The Guardian explaining how a mere 5,950 votes in the final ballot proves that the Hugos have lost relevance and are being abandoned by fandom.

– Requires Spite will find some older women writers to bully.

Kevin, Mur Lafferty and I will be doing the text-based live reporting of the Hugo Award Ceremony as usual. (I will be up in the middle of the night in a hotel in Liverpool.) I expect we will be be accused of bias by both sides. In fact I think the Puppies may have pre-emptively accused us of bias somewhere along the way.

Of course we wouldn’t do these things unless we were getting stupidly well paid. The Old White Men cabal pays very well. You may recall that I have been able to buy a holiday home on the proceeds of my involvement with the Hugos.

However, the Commie Pinko Feminazi Faggots are fairly new to this game and haven’t really got their act together yet. I understand that they are run by John Scalzi and Cory Doctorow (a fact that was discovered by brilliant sleuthing on the part of some Puppy supporters who deduced it from the facts that Scalzi and Doctorow are a) leftists and b) friends). Being leftists, they don’t pay very well.

Of course Kevin and I are reasonable people. We know that start-up cabals don’t have a lot of money, and probably have venture capitalists breathing down their necks. On the other hand, fixing the Hugos is hard, especially when you are expected to fix them to produce two diametrically opposite results simultaneously. There’s only so much stupidity, blinkeredness and persecution complex on the part of fandom that you can rely upon. So we have decided to take a stand. We would like Mr. Scalzi and Mr. Doctorow to raise our wages, otherwise we may be unable to fix the Hugos as they want. A simple doubling of our current remuneration would suffice. I’m sure they can afford it.

Sentence Jukka to Transportation

Yes folks, this is your chance to have Jukka Halme sent to Australia. And probably New Zealand as well. I can’t promise that he won’t come back, but you never know.

The reason for this is that Jukka is standing for GUFF, the fan fund that sends fans from Europe to the other end of the world. To find out how to vote for him to go, check out this fine web page put together by this year’s Administrator, Mihaela Marija Perkovic.

It appears that Jukka is the only candidate this year, but you do still need to vote if you want him to go. The other option is for the funds from this year’s race to be held over to a later date. Some people may think that the Aussies and Kiwis are better than everyone else at enough sports already, without Jukka teaching them to play ice hockey. And the Aussie authorities might be concerned about their people becoming addicted to Strange Finnish Food as a result of his visit. Who can tell?

Anyway, good luck, Jukka, mate. I expect you to come back able to play cricket.

Hugos – Don’t Give Up

I cast my Hugo ballot today. I figured I should get in before the last minute rush, because it is always a strain on the host Worldcon’s servers and this year is going to be much worse. I suggest that you get your ballot in well before the deadline too.

Also today I saw this article by Sarah Lotz on the Guardian Books Blog. It will, I suspect, make Little Teddy very happy indeed, because it is basically saying that he has already won.

Look, there will be some weird stuff in the results this year. There may well be a few No Awards given out, and possibly some really bad works winning awards. It is not as if that hasn’t happened before, though perhaps not in the same quantities. On the other hand, people are talking about the Hugos much more this year than they ever have before, and in many more high profile places. In addition vastly more people have bought supporting memberships, and we are looking at a record number of people participating in the final ballot. All of those people will be eligible to nominate next year. This isn’t the way I would have liked to get that result, but it is a result all the same.

Anyone who tells you that the Hugos are irrevocably damaged doesn’t have the awards’ best interests at heart. They, like Little Teddy, want the Hugos to go away, and presumably be replaced by awards that they, and people like them, can control. If you want awards controlled by, and voted on by, fans, then you need to support those awards, and believe that the vast majority of fans are not going to support narrow political campaigns.

Sure, I could be wrong. We could be seeing the start of years of slate voting. But we haven’t seen it yet. What is clear is that if we listen to people like Ms. Lotz and take the view that we have already lost that battle, then we most certainly have lost.

Don’t give up. Vote.

Archipelacon – Day 2

As I predicted, I spent most of the morning in my hotel room doing panel prep of various sorts. I think my academic paper is now more or less done. I have one panel still to prepare for, which I’ll get done tonight.

Today I saw a couple of panels about fandom. Firstly George, Parris and Gary talked about their life in fandom. Also Parris was joined by Edward James, Crystal Huff and Michael Lee to talk about Anglo-American fandom. Much apologizing for Puppies was done. Personally I feel that a bit of apologizing for other people might have been appropriate as well. I have spent a great deal of time being told that I’m “not part of our community”. Because I have a stubborn streak, and Kevin’s support, I stuck it out and finally won a Hugo or two. Torgersen and Correia claim to have suffered a small amount of rudeness, as a result of which they are now making like professional soccer players rolling around on the ground clutching various tender parts of their anatomy and screaming for an ambulance. Them I have no sympathy for, but while few people are as thin-skinned as them I don’t think that everyone is as thick-skinned as me either.

The bottom line is that we have won the Culture War. Everyone is a fan now, and we have to accept that, or get left behind.

Today also saw Johanna Sinisalo’s Guest of Honour speech. She certainly seems to have been a precocious child. She could read well at 2.5 years old, and at five, having discovered that books were written by people, resolved to become an author. One of the first SF-related books she read was Comet in Moominland. Being a smart kid, she worried that comets might actually strike the Earth, and asked her father if this was possible. As she tells it, “Then he made a very serious mistake”. Her father, perhaps hoping to reassure her, told her that this Tove Jansson person was a woman, and that women knew nothing about such things. Little Johanna immediately resolved to prove him wrong, and to see to it that women were never again told that there were things they could not do.

Johanna also read us a short passage from the novel she currently has in translation. It is set in a near future Finland where an authoritarian government has banned all “dangerous” drugs except chilis. Naturally everyone turns to the burn to get their endorphin rush. Apparently she and her husband had a lot of fun researching this book.

Today’s first piece of really good news is that the Finnish government has awarded Johanna a five-year arts grant to allow her to write more books. She now earns more than I do just for being an author, quite independent of any money she might get from publishers. I am absolutely delighted for her.

The other piece of really good news was, of course, the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage. We celebrated by having a Diversity in YA presentation from Suzanne von Rooyen, and an LGBT panel featuring Suzanne, Dirk Weger and myself. More on those shortly.

WSFS is not FIFA

One of the plus points of Puppygate is that we’ve had a brief respite from people yelling about how the Evil Right Wing Hugo Committee is fixing the awards to favor right-wing authors. Thankfully people have realized that VD does not run WSFS.

Nevertheless, there are an awful lot of new people taking note of what happens in WSFS these years, and most of them seem to assume that it is run by a shadowy cabal of well-paid administrators who control everything that happens at Worldcon. I mean, VD says it is so, so it must be true, right?

Well no. There is no Hugo Committee, just a bunch of people who count the votes and who change each year. There is no WSFS Board, everything is decided by popular vote at the Business Meeting. Anyone can propose business to be discussed, and this year it seems like everyone is doing so.

The agenda for this year’s Business Meeting is filling up fast. Motions are being posted to the Sasquan website as they are submitted. You can find them here. Each of these proposals has been submitted by an independent group of people. None of them are “official”.

Nevertheless, last night on Twitter I found people complaining that the Evil WSFS People were using Puppygate as an excuse to oppress short fiction writers.

What has actually happened is that a group of individual fans have proposed the creation of a new Hugo category, the Saga, which will be for extended series of books. This would be for things like a multi-volume story such as A Song of Ice and Fire, an open-ended series such as Seanan McGuire’s October Daye books, and indeed The Culture were Iain still writing books. The idea is that the Saga will be newly eligible each time a new volume is published.

The idea has some merit, in that books of this type tend to do poorly in Best Novel. However, the originators of the motion have also proposed to delete the Novelette category so as not to increase the total number of categories.

Whether you think that is a good idea or not is debatable. As Kevin notes here, the removal of Novelette can be debated separately. There’s no need for it to be passed in order to create the Saga category.

However, getting rid of Novelette is not an official WSFS policy. It was not put forward by the WSFS Board because there is no WSFS Board. If there was, I can assure you that the proposal would not get submitted until the last minute. I’ve attended the National Union of Students conference so I have seen political skulduggery close up (and I see from this year’s goings on that the National Organisation of Labour Students is just as vile as it was when I was a student). Proposed changes to the WSFS Constitution are posted to the Worldcon website to warn people that the proposal has been made, allow people to debate the issue beforehand, and give those affected by any chances a chance to organize a defense.

Update: By the way, if you are interested in the merits, or lack thereof, of the Saga proposal, John Scalzi has a debate going.

The Wages of Sin

Yesterday Sasquan, the 2015 Worldcon, announced that they now have 9,000 members. Fannish mathematics thus makes it the first billion dollar Worldcon1.

On the back of this unexpected windfall the Commie Pinko Faggot Feminazi Cabal that controls Worldcon via Tor Books has announced the 10-year, $3.4 million deal for its primary gamma rabbit author, John Scalzi.

John Scalzi
John Scalzi (author photo by Kyle Cassidy)

Scalzi’s editor at Tor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, explained the rationale behind this move. “It was a tough decision,” he said, especially as none of Scalzi’s books have sold more than a dozen or so copies, mostly to his friends and family. The convention revenue simply doesn’t cover the shortfall.”

Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Patrick Nielsen Hayden

“Fortunately,” continued Nielsen Hayden, “we are holding Brad Torgersen and Larry Correia in the dungeons of the Flatiron Building. The price of man tears is currently very favorable, thanks in part to the infamous bath at this year’s Wiscon. We believe that we will achieve sufficient production to more than cover the cost of Scalzi’s contract.”

Man Tears Bath
Wiscon members bathe in man tears

Industry commentator, Cheryl Morgan, questioned the level of remuneration that Scalzi is receiving. “As I understand it,” she said, “the contract guarantees that Scalzi will win the Best Novel Hugo for all of the next ten years. As everyone knows, winning a Hugo is a very lucrative proposition, but the contract stipulates that 80% of such revenue will go to Tor. I only won a few fan Hugos and I was able to buy myself a small cottage in the Welsh mountains from the proceeds. Best Novel is worth a lot more and I think Scalzi is being cheated. I hope that SFWA will look into this.”

Cheryl Morgan's Welsh Holiday Home
Cheryl Morgan’s Welsh Holiday Home

Scalzi, whose libertine lifestyle and Coke Zero addiction are legendary, has responded to the news by selling his wife and daughter into slavery.

Krissy and Athena Scalzi
Krissy and Athena Scalzi

1. The rules of fannish mathematics require that several zeros be added to the end of all convention income figures, and all costs be assumed to be zero.

Puppygate – Winners and Losers

What a big HugoThat image is from issue #70 of Doom Patrol, published by Vertigo in 1993 and written by Rachel Pollack. The woman in the frog mask is Kate Godwin, a.k.a. Coagula, a trans woman superhero. The words are, of course, mine. If you’d like to know more about the villain, Codpiece, or indeed Coagula, that issue is available on Comixology.

I’m using that as an illustration to remind people that angry, entitled white men are by no means new. Indeed, if you want an even better illustration of the type, go and read Chip Delany’s Triton. Bron is possibly the ur-MRA character, though he does come up with a far more inventive solution to his inability to get laid.

As to this Puppygate thing, let’s see if I have understood it properly.

Postulate: for the past two decades the Hugo Awards have been controlled by an evil cabal of commie, pinko, faggot feminists led by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. They use their power over the SF&F industry to ensure that the commie, pinko, faggot feminist writers they publish via Tor Books dominate the Hugos.

Fact: John C. Wright is published by Tor Books.

Fact: This year John C. Wright has five works as Hugo finalists.

Q.E.D..

Or maybe not. I don’t want to go through the whole Puppy 101 here. If you want details, Mike Glyer has them (and he deserves to be a finalist for the Fan Writer Hugo again next year for the sterling work he is doing keeping up with the torrent of comment).

Actually the whole thing is a bit of a mystery to me, because for the past five years or so I’ve heard little save how the Hugos are a conspiracy run by an evil right wing cabal headed by Old White Men such as Kevin and myself. It is actually a bit of a relief to be told that we are commie, pinko, faggot feminists after all.

By the way, please do remember those accusations. Lots of people are weighing in on the Puppygate issue. They all seem to have advice as to what you, the voters, should do about it. Before taking their advice, do bear in mind what they have said about the Hugos in the past. If they are the sort of person who has dissed the Hugos at every possible opportunity, and they are now telling you that the only thing to do is adopt a scorched earth policy and kill off the awards completely, you might want to be a bit suspicious about their advice.

For most of us, however, the Hugos are a thing that we have some affection for, and Puppygate has clearly got people riled up. I must admit that from my point of view the constant carping, not to mention outright greed, of some people claiming to push a diversity agenda had totally put me off. I simply couldn’t be bothered with all of that nonsense anymore. Puppygate, however, has awoken something interesting in fandom. Right now I am more optimistic about the Hugos than I have been for a long time. Let me explain.

The title of this post was inspired by a podcast that Kevin guested on. One of the hosts of the show was complaining that, no matter what fandom did in response to Puppygate, VD was bound to win. I thought that was wrong, so I started thinking about who the winners and losers were in all of this.

The most obvious losers are, of course, Correia and Torgersen. Firstly they have been portrayed in large numbers of articles all over the mainstream media as a couple of bad losers who, when they didn’t get the share of the Hugo cake they felt they were entitled to, invited a bunch of thugs (VD and GamerGate) to come and piss all over the cake so that no one could have it. Secondly, as has been pointed out by many people, they have been totally pwned by VD. And they daren’t try to dissociate themselves from him too strongly because if they do he’ll come after them next.

Some other authors are losers, of course. There are some fine works that could have been finalists for this year’s Hugos had not the Puppies intervened. But then again every year there are far more fine works that are not finalists than fine works that are. The Hugos are a very tough contest, especially in the fiction categories. Doing good work is not a guarantee of a rocket. That, of course, is a point that appears to have escaped the Puppies. It must be so sad when someone takes the silver spoon of patriarchy out of your mouth and forces you to compete with everyone else, no matter how brown, female or queer they might be.

Has fandom lost? Well obviously if VD and his pals win a bunch of Hugos then we will have done this year. But the final ballot hasn’t happened yet. I understand that Sasquan took an additional 1350 supporting memberships in the two days after the Hugo finalists were announced. I suspect that more memberships are still being bought. Sasquan is on course to be the first Worldcon ever to have more supporting memberships than attending, and probably the third largest Worldcon ever. Some people, I know, are convinced that all of those new members are VD loyalists who will vote as he directs. Personally I’m not so sure.

It’s not just those 1350 or so new members (presumably all voters) that we need to think about either. Given the way that nominating eligibility works (members of last year, this year and next year’s Worldcon), there must have been at least 12,000 people eligible to nominate. Only 2,122 people actually did so. And in the Puppy-dominated short fiction categories the largest number of nominating ballots was 1,174.

What would have happened if all 12,000 eligible WSFS members had cast nominating ballots? Well in Novel, where there were 1,827 ballots cast, three non-Puppy works became finalists.

It is certainly true that a small number of people voting for a slate has far more influence on the nominating ballot than a larger number of people voting independently. But there is a limit. With enough people voting, even a slate becomes less effective.

So my first point is this: VD didn’t win the Hugos, we (collectively) gave them to him by failing to use our votes. Obviously there are good reasons why people don’t participate even though they have the right to do so, but if we want to fix the Puppy problem one of our main priorities ought to be to increase the level of participation in Hugo voting. I do, as you might expect, have ideas about how to do that, which I’ll address in a later post. For now, however, fannish outrage at Puppygate is doing a fine job of encouraging people to vote.

My second point, of course, is that if enough of us vote in the final ballot then he won’t win that either.

I understand that VD has threatened that if he doesn’t win the Hugos this year he’ll come back harder next year. Well, let him try. How many loyal followers does he have? A few hundred, at most, I suspect. There are lots more people who enjoy conservative-themed fiction, but I’m pretty sure that most of them have discerning taste.

There is, I understand, a great deal of debate about how to vote in the final ballot. Do we vote as normal? Do we put known Puppies below No Award? Do we put everyone on the Puppy slates below No Award? Or do we vote No Award for everything?

Well, your vote belongs to you. How you use it is up to you, not to anyone claiming to be an arbiter of fannish morality. All I can say is what I’m intending to do.

I’ll start by noting that there is one category (Fan Artist) for which the puppies didn’t put up a single candidate. There is the possibility of the first ever Finnish winner of a Hugo Award. There are other deserving candidates too (hi Spring!). I’m certainly voting in this one.

There are some really good works in Novel and Graphic Novel too, and anyone who thinks I am forgoing the opportunity to vote for Groot and Rocket has got another think coming (though actually I’ll probably put Winter Soldier first because it is a seriously good film). In Fancast I’m torn between my Aussie pals, Alex, Alisa & Tansy, and Bristol’s local heroes, Emma & Pete.

I’m not going to go through all of the categories in detail, but I do want to note that just because something was on a Puppy slate it doesn’t mean that it didn’t deserve a nomination in its own right. Guardians of the Galaxy was a Puppy nominee, despite the fact that the principal villain, Ronan the Accuser, is a right-wing religious fanatic who wants to kill off everyone he deems morally inferior. I have been constantly surprised that Jim Butcher hasn’t appeared on Hugo ballots, given how many books he sells, and he was a Guest of Honour at this year’s Eastercon.

Ronan judges the Hugos

Then again, No Award is available as an option if you think that a work is genuinely not Hugo material, or doesn’t deserve to be on the Hugo ballot for some other reason. I may well be using it. John C. Wright, sadly, has not got better through his career. Some of you might remember what I thought of him in the days when he was the Great White Hope of Libertarian SF.

I understand that VD claims he will have won if he is beaten by No Award because that will “prove” that the results are fixed. The believability of such a claim will depend a lot on how many people vote.

By the way, Puppies, when I first started getting nominated for Hugos, a whole bunch of angry people from Fanzine Fandom started going on about how I had cheated by using immoral campaigning tactics, how I should have been ruled ineligible anyway, and that there should be a campaign to place me below No Award. I was even officially blacklisted from programming at the 2004 Worldcon. I won Fanzine that year, and a rant denouncing my win was put on the Worldcon’s official website1. Some of them, I think, are still demanding that the “Hugo Committee” correct the results and remove my wins from the record. Frankly, you Puppies are amateurs when it comes to being hated by people who think they own fandom.

I like to think that I won because the voters liked what I was doing. However, I have learned from the latest Galactic Suburbia that, according to Puppy supporters, an Evil Feminist can only win a Hugo if she has a “glittery hoo ha”. A little Googling revealed this means that the poor male members of Worldcon were so desperate to have sex with me that they voted me four Hugos even though I didn’t deserve them. I must admit that I hadn’t noticed this level of general lust, but my ego has benefitted significantly from the discovery.

Given the number of people voting, I am fairly confident that there will be some very fine winners of Hugo Awards this year. There will also be some results I disagree with, but then again the works I nominate rarely become finalists so I am used to that. People need to remember that if some Hugos are won by very popular works that they don’t particularly like, that does not mean that the awards are “broken”.

The real winners of Puppygate, however, are science fiction, and the Hugo Awards themselves.

Why? Well to start with look at all of the press coverage we have got. It is still going on now, more than two weeks after the finalists were announced. No amount of money could have bought that level of attention.

What’s more, most of the coverage is broadly sympathetic. The message has been that there are awards for science fiction that are deeply loved by fans and authors alike, and that those awards have been hijacked by a group of right wing fanatics. A lot of the coverage has explained that diversity has been increasing in the SF&F community, and that this is why a bunch of bigots are so angry.

If that wasn’t enough, we have a whole bunch of top authors writing about their support for the Hugos, and we have hundreds, possibly thousands, of fans signing up to vote.

Thanks Puppies, there’s no way we could have managed all of this without you.

Finally, lots of people have been talking about the need for major change in how the Hugos are run. Normally the WSFS Business Meeting is viewed as a massive snore-fest. This year the eyes of the world will be upon it. Obviously Kevin has a huge responsibility as Chair of the meeting, but I have every confidence in his ability to do a brilliant job. The end result could be a number of really valuable changes that will make the awards much more relevant.

What those changes should be will be the subject of a later post.

I’m closing comments on this, mainly because I don’t have the time to deal with the war that is likely to erupt in the comments if I don’t. There are plenty of other places where partisans can throw insults at each other. If you have genuine questions for me, I’m not that hard to find.

(1) Thanks again to con chair, Deb Geisler, for ordering the web team to take it down, though the matter should never have got that far up the chain of command.

Canaries and Communities

Canary


I found this image via Briannu Wu’s Twitter feed. I’m not sure who originally created it, but it is absolutely spot on. There’s absolutely no point in bringing more women, or more of any minority group, into tech if those people are just going to get marginalized and bullied, and are going to leave again very quickly.

Of course the same applies to all sorts of communities. Also today I saw this post from Rochita Loenen-Ruiz about her nervousness over attending Eastercon.

The bottom line is that if people find the atmosphere in communities toxic, then they will stop wanting to be a part of those communities. Insistence on ideological purity will make a community toxic just as surely as racist or sexist abuse.

Moving to yet anther community, I’ll leave the last word to CN Lester.

TAFF Goes European

I am delighted to see that this year’s contest for the Transatlantic Fan Fund (TAFF) has two candidates from Central Europe.

Nina Horvath is an Austrian fan who is well known for writing convention reports and the like in English. She has provided a rare window on the German-speaking fan scene for us. One of her nominators is my Croatian friend, Mihaela Marija Perković. You can see what Mihaela has to say in support of Nina here.

Wolf von Witting is also German-speaking, but his ancestry includes some Swedish and Scottish. He’s been around the European fan scene somewhat longer than Nina, and even wrote a few articles for Emerald City back in the day.

The online voting form, complete with each candidate’s manifesto, can be found here. It should be a great race and, whichever way it turns out, this year’s Worldcon will be getting a little taste of Europe.

Big Donation for Eaton Collection

A local paper in Riverside reports a major donation of $3.5m to the Eaton Collection. The money comes from the estate of a long-time fan, Jay Kay Klein, who died in 2012. This is apparently the largest donation ever made to the UC Riverside Library, and hopefully it will help secure the future of the Eaton, which is one of the world’s largest repositories of material relating to science fiction and fantasy. Of course there is still the issue, reported a few weeks ago, of the new Library Administration being unconvinced of the value of the Eaton. I’m hoping that the donation causes them to have a change of mind.

Eurocon – Day 1

The first day of Shamrokon has come and gone. Thus far I am still upright. This is progress.

There are copies of Airship Shape & Bristol Fashion in the dealers’ room if anyone wants them. They are on the Swan River table.

There are Jim Fitzpatrick prints in the Art Show. I want all of them. I suspect I cannot afford any of them.

I went to two panels yesterday. The first was on Mediaeval Women and had some expert panelists. I need to sit down with Gillian Polack and get some leads to follow up on. The other was on Celtic Gods and was more playing to the tourist market. There are basically only two ways such a panel can go: either you say, “we know nothing, Jon Snow”, which is basically true; or you run headlong into von Daniken territory, which is fun. Thankfully we managed to avoid any mention of the Irish Potato Goddess (Google it, it is a real thing).

Later in the evening I was on a panel about boycotts. No, not Sir Geoffrey, though I did come prepared with a list of his career statistics. The erstwhile subject was fannish boycotts of particular creators works, for example refusing to go to see the Ender’s Game movie because, so I learned last night, Orson Scott Card has promised to donate some of the proceeds to the fight against marriage equality.

Right at the start I tried to establish that there is a difference between some people not wanting to support certain creators, and the work of those creators being banned. Sadly there was one person in the audience who made comments about “witch hunts” and boycotts being “undemocratic”. I object strongly to being told that I have a moral duty to listen to all instances of people abusing me, otherwise I am guilty of “censorship”. (And, yes, I see this pretty much every day on Twitter from white feminists who think that trans people have a moral duty to submit humbly to any abuse aimed at them.)

Having said that, the whole issue is immensely complicated. What I tried to get across on the panel is that what is offensive to one person may not be offensive to another, and there are no hard and fast rules that can be drawn as to when it is, or is not, legitimate to take offense. Just because you are not offended by X, it doesn’t mean that no one has has a right to be offended by it. Equally, if you are offended by X, you can’t expect everyone else to share your objections. All you can ask is that they acknowledge and respect your views.

One thing I mentioned in the panel is this post on How to be a Fan of Problematic Things. I recommend it here as well.

Remembering Susan Wood

Before Claire Brialey and Tansy Rayner Roberts won the Best Fan Writer Hugo in 2011 and 2013 respectively; before I won in 2009 (if you accept that win as fair and accept me as a woman); before the long, dark years of the Langfordian Ascendancy; there was Susan Wood. Susan won three times — in 1974, 1977 (tied with Richard E. Geis) and 1981. I never met her. She died late in 1980, aged just 32. However, her legacy remains in the form of many fanzines that she wrote and edited.

While the prevailing view on social media appears to be that the 1970s were an awful time in which women were barred from participating in fandom, Susan was an ardent feminist. This was, after all, the time of Joanna Russ, Ursula K. Le Guin and James Tiptree Jr.. Of course progress has been made since that time. Worldcon masquerades are no longer an excuse for male writers and fans to ogle female fans in various states of undress. But it is also worthwhile to remember what was being done in those days.

Over at Amazing Stories, R. Graeme Cameron has written a retrospective of Susan’s career. You can find it here. I certainly found it interesting, not in the least for the fact that the Feminist SF program stream that Susan helped curate at Westercon 30 was trans-inclusive — in 1977!

Feminism shouldn’t just mean making sure that present-day women writers are remembered. It should mean rescuing women writers from the obscurity to which his-story has consigned them. Susan is very much someone who deserves remembering.

Kevin Has A Proposal

Over on LiveJournal, Kevin has posted the text of a proposal to be brought before this year’s Worldcon Business Meeting. The substance of the proposal is that all changes to the WSFS Constitution should be subject to ratification by popular vote of the membership rather than by the Business Meeting. Changes would still take two years to pass, but everyone would get a say in ratification, not just those who have the time to attend the Business Meeting.

If you want to debate this, please do so on Kevin’s LiveJournal, not here. It makes no sense to have the conversation in two places.

While this will doubtless ruffle feathers amongst some old-time Business Meeting regulars, I think it will pass fairly easily. The discussion about Worldcon has moved on from a debate as to how open and democratic it should be, to a debate about whether it should be a community event or a commercial service.

Brief Status Update

Well, yesterday went pretty much as I expected. Many thanks to all of those who made kind comments about my post. However, please don’t be misled by the echo chamber effect. What matters is not just who comments, but who does not. It is pretty clear to me that I am mostly getting support from one side in this, and that means I have made a lot of people very angry with me.

As I have a healthy sense of self-preservation, I have cancelled my appearance at Worldcon. I may still be in London at the time, depending on what Kevin is doing, if anyone wants to catch up.

I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to anyone who is now worried about being tarred by association with me. I certainly won’t take it against anyone who wants to sever their relationship.

The next task is to take stock of my various projects and see what damage has been done. I suspect that the bookstore may be a casualty of this. However, the biggest problem is the Translation Awards. I confess that one of the reasons things have been so slow this year is that I have been afraid to do anything for fear of accidentally provoking a shitstorm. That’s now gone up by an order of magnitude. So if there is anyone out there who thinks that they are worth preserving, please contact me privately.

Meanwhile, day job, which desperately needs attention after the past few days of distraction.

Ross, the Hugos and the Oscars

I don’t pay a lot of attention to British TV and the celebrities that work on it. I’ve been out of the country a lot in past years. Much TV “light entertainment” is deeply transphobic so I prefer to avoid it. And I’m suspicious of anything the media says about celebrities on the grounds that most of it, good and bad, is probably manufactured in some way.

My knowledge of Jonathan Ross, therefore, is somewhat limited. But here are some things I do know.

He’s a lifelong comics fan who used to co-own a comic shop in London. He has written a science fiction comic. His wife, Jane Goldman, won a Hugo for the script of the film, Stardust, and he’s a bit jealous of that.

There’s controversy, of course. That’s pretty much par for the course for TV celebrities. He’s even been yelled at for telling transphobic jokes. But an interesting thing happened in that case. Hearing of the incident, Neil Gaiman had a word with Ross, who agreed to meet with Roz Kaveney and educate himself on trans issues. He ended up apologizing and doing an interview with META, a now-defunct trans magazine edited by Paris Lees.

In my view, that puts Ross well ahead of most high profile UK comedians (honorable exception for Eddie Izzard as always). It puts him ahead of Jared Leto. And it puts him ahead of most of the celebrity white feminists that I regularly see being praised in my tweet stream.

I should note also that I take a fairly relaxed view of who is an acceptable person to have around. The reason for that is that if I objected to everyone who had ever been transphobic I wouldn’t have many people left I could speak to. Besides, most people don’t give a fuck if trans people are offended. I have to survive in the world, and that means dealing with a lot of people I would rather not give the time of day to.

Case in point: everyone was expecting Leto to win the Oscar, so there was a lot of speculation amongst the trans community as to whether he would acknowledge the role that he played and the struggles of real life trans women. As it turned out, he very carefully avoided any mention of it. Apparently even uttering the word “transgender” was deemed too offensive for the Oscars audience. My tweet stream has been full of fury from other trans people. And yet his speech is being lauded, not just as the best of the night, but “beyond perfect”.

So to my mind Ross is a pretty good candidate for a Hugo ceremony host. He’s a genuine fan with a lot of respect for the awards. He’s also got a huge media profile and would have got us lots of press coverage. He has, on the one occasion I know of, engaged respectfully with a minority group that was upset with one of his shows. And hosting award ceremonies is something he has done professionally.

I understand that he had agreed to do the job without pay, which I think says a lot about how he felt about the Hugos.

However, one of the things about intersectionality is that you need to take note of what other people think. Just because you have no problem with someone, it doesn’t mean that everyone else does. You have to listen to what others say, and respect their points of view. So while I would have been happy with Ross as the host, I have to take into account that many other people object very strongly to him because of things he has said or done in the past.

The thing is that this is a conversation that should have been had within the Loncon 3 convention committee — initially in the Executive Committee, and if that proved highly contentious then perhaps with the wider staff group. This conversation should have taken place before the invitation was issued. (Kevin reminds me that for ConJosé we discussed Guests of Honor and Toastmaster amongst the entire bid committee and allowed members a veto on any suggestion.) If you are going to involve someone potentially controversial, you need to be sure that you have the support of the bulk of your team.

I’m not going to comment further on what went wrong in the committee because I have not been privy to any of the discussions, nor have I talked directly to any of those involved. However, I cannot understand how anyone involved thought that it was appropriate to resolve the issue via a flame war in social media.

As I said, I’m perfectly happy with the argument that Ross is an inappropriate person for the job if a large number of people would be uncomfortable with his presence. We don’t want nominees unwilling to attend the ceremony because they are afraid of what the host might say to them. But the conversation around Ross did not restrict itself to that issue. I’d like to address some of the other things that were said.

Firstly, some people appeared to not want Ross involved because of the press coverage it would have given us. The idea seemed to be that we shouldn’t want the media to notice us because of the embarrassing things they might write about us. This, I think, is a fundamental error. You cannot hide from the media, especially these days when newspapers are happy to take “comment” pieces from anyone (because they don’t pay them). What’s more, I think that only by accepting that everything we do is going to be subject to constant media scrutiny can we learn to behave sensibly and not, for example, take things that Dave Truesdale says seriously. Whenever we get angry about something, we should always think, “How is the press going to spin this?”

Secondly a lot of people appeared to be saying that Ross was unsuitable as a Hugo ceremony host because he was not a proper fan, by which they meant that he had not attended conventions regularly down the years. The view was that only someone who had been a beloved member of the fannish community for some time should be given the honor of hosting the ceremony.

As someone who has been a regular target of accusations of being a “fake fan” and “not part of our community” in the past, I take this sort of thing seriously. It felt like I was back in 1997 again and being accused of “destroying fandom” though my evil habit of writing book reviews online.

I note that Loncon 3 is set to be the largest Worldcon in decades, perhaps the largest ever. There will be a lot of people for whom it will be their first ever convention. It worries me a lot to see the whole “not part of our community” thing raising its ugly head again. Science fiction is mainstream now. It does not belong to us anymore, and trying to pretend that it does will only make us look ridiculous.

I didn’t attend the last UK Worldcon in part because I expected I would get a very unpleasant reception from many of the attendees. I am not on the committee of this one because of the way I was treated while working on the last one. I have, however, been trying to help when I can behind the scenes, and I have been promoting the event. I am beginning to think that was a mistake, and that I should walk away from fandom and not look back. It is not like I don’t have other things to do with my life.

Joanne Harris – One Of Us

The Gospel of Loki - Joanne HarrisYesterday evening I was in Bath to see Joanne Harris at Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights. She was on tour with her new book, The Gospel of Loki. I’m a sucker for Norse mythology, so of course I am interested in the book, but I came away thinking that I had just met an old friend. Let me explain.

These days everyone and her sister is a science fiction and fantasy fan. We all watch the Marvel movies, we all follow Game of Thrones on TV. You can’t go anywhere without finding fellow geeks. However, a lot of those people have come fairly recently to geekdom. Many of you lot, on the other hand, have been reading SF&F for decades. There’s a term used amongst established fandom reserved for people we thought might be outsiders but turn out to be just like us, people whose life stories and attitudes are instantly familiar. We say that they are “one of us”. I guess it dates back to the days of fandom as a ghetto.

Well people, she might have had a No.1 best selling mainstream novel, but Joanne Harris is most definitely “one of us”. She regaled us with stories of reading her way through the children’s section of her local library so many times that the librarian reluctantly gave her a ticket for adult books. She talked enthusiastically about her love of mythology and fairy tales. She spoke scathingly of people in the publishing industry who think that fantasy is only for “immature” readers.

Here’s an interesting thing. If I closed my eyes and just listened to her talk about writing, and about fantasy, it could have been Neil Gaiman speaking. It was uncanny the way that Joanne appeared to be channeling Neil. I was not surprised to discover that they have become fast friends recently. Joanne is worried that she is developing Neil Hair, which is quite scary.

Some of the audience were clearly fans of her mainstream fiction. She fielded several questions about her having “changed genre”. Her response was that she’s still writing exactly the same books, just about different people with different amounts of magic in them. The first book she ever wrote was fantasy (recently reworked and packed as a YA novel), and she has been writing fantasy ever since.

I had noticed that for the new book Joanne has acquired a middle initial: M. I asked her if it stood for Menzies. She responded that actually it stood for Michelle, which is her middle name, and that she was using it as a signal to book buyers. She went on to add that she had always admired the way that Iain Banks had maintained two superficially separate careers. Perfect answer.

Of course there were questions about Loki. Someone else asked about Sleipnir so I didn’t have to. The horse story is in the book. Joanne said she had been happy to have been contacted by a young trans person who found Loki’s gender ambiguity empowering. Another tick in the win column.

Look folks, I haven’t read this book yet. However, I am certain that Joanne Harris can write. Number 1 best seller, remember. I am also absolutely certain that she knows her Norse myths inside out, and that she approaches myth in a similar way to other writers whose work I admire. So I am pretty sure that I am going to love The Gospel of Loki, and that most of you will too.

Then, of course, Joanne will get added to that long list of fabulous women fantasy writers who get overlooked when lists of great names in the field are drawn up. And because she is very good at feminist arguments too (see this from today for an example) she is going to become one of our best allies in that particular fight.

All in all, it was an excellent evening. I know you couldn’t all be there, and some of you might be quite jealous by now (hi Martha!). But you can get a partial sense of the evening because the Bookshop Band has posted a recording of the song they wrote for the event. It’s a bit rough, being the first time they had performed it (inevitable when you write songs especially for book readings), and I guess they actually mean it to be called “Rooting for Loki”, but they are lovely people and very talented.

PS: Thor: The Dark World is out on DVD and Blu Ray on Monday. Squee!

The End of Fan-Run Conventions?

This is going to be long, for which my apologies, but I think it is a debate that needs to be had. I’ve been involved in running fan conventions for a couple of decades now, most specifically Worldcon. Kevin has been doing it for longer. So I do have some idea what I’m talking about. And I’m starting to think that the model we have is broken, and needs to be abandoned, or at least radically overhauled. There are lots of reasons for this.

I note also that I have been working on this post for some time, and would have run it on Tuesday had the whole “the Hugos are corrupt and misogynist” thing not blown up. It is, of course, even more relevant now.

Exhibit 1: Access to Funding

I had a very interesting conversation with Mihaela on the way to the airport in Zagreb. Like the Finns, Croatian fandom is able to raise money from government grants. They don’t get as much, but then Finland is an older and richer country. What they do get is important to them. Much of that money comes, ultimately, from the EU, and therein lies the problem, because the EU is starting to introduce stricter standards for deciding what organizations to fund.

There’s no question of anti-SF bias here. The EU has no problem funding science fiction conventions. But they are starting to ask that any arts body that they donate money to is properly incorporated and has at least one full time member of staff. It can, of course, be a non-profit organization, but it does have to show the ability to get the job done. A bunch of mates doing something in their spare time as a hobby doesn’t cut the mustard. And you know, this is public money they are handing out here, they do have a right to be cautious.

Of course this is directly contrary to traditional fannish ethics. We’ll reimburse expenditure, and some conventions will comp program participants, possibly after the event and only if they have enough money. But no one, absolutely no one, gets paid. If a Worldcon were to talk about employing fans as staff I can guarantee a flame war to end all flame wars.

I have no idea whether this affects Finland, and if so how. Hopefully someone will tell me. In the UK the chances of getting money for a fan-run event have always been ridiculously small anyway, and the US doesn’t do government subsidy of the arts much at all, for anyone. As a result, we Anglos can put our heads in the sand and carry on as before. But I’d like you to consider something else.

The main reason why so many of the people involved in running Worldcon come from relatively privileged backgrounds is that it takes one heck of a lot of time, effort and money. Volunteering is not cheap, and many people can’t afford to do it.

The thing I liked most about Madeline Ashby’s contribution to the Worldcon debate was where she pointed out that people her age (early 30s), even in a prosperous country like Canada, have no hope of owning a home, or being able to afford a family. They also, of course, have no hope of job security, and if they have any sense they’ll be worried sick about pensions too.

It was all so much easier when I was Madeline’s age. The job for life thing looked like it was going away, but we all figured that we’d have our own homes, we’d have families, and we’d retire on a good pension. Giving something back to the community seemed like only the right thing to do. These days, younger people have way too much to worry about. And that’s just the middle class white people. I suspect the situation is far worse for people of color, for disabled people, and so on.

I have a great deal of sympathy with them, because when I took the decision to transition I was giving up much of my privilege. I lost my home, I lost my job, and the company running my private pension scheme told me I had forfeited all of the money I had paid in. (I got it back eventually, but I haven’t been able to afford pension savings since.)

Pro tip: if you want young people, and people from minority groups to get involved in con-running, try to remove the economic barriers that prevent them from volunteering.

Exhibit 2: A Membership, Not A Ticket

That brings us to another scared cow of fannish traditions: the idea that a convention is a community, not a show, and that you get out of it what you put in. As with not getting paid, I have a great deal of sympathy with that in theory, but aside from really small events like Corflu and SMOFcon I don’t think that it ever worked in practice. Even at something like BristolCon (membership between 250 and 300) I’d be prepared to bet that more than half of the attendees want nothing more than to buy a ticket and be entertained. At something like Worldcon the proportion of ticket buyers will be much higher.

I don’t see anything wrong with that. You can still have a community of people that is more heavily involved in the event than most of the attendees. But people have been talking about Worldcon being “exclusionary” of late, and I can’t think of anything we do that is more exclusionary than telling people that they will only get out what they are prepared to put in.

Besides, for an event like Worldcon the general public ought to be a cash cow. They’ll give you money to come in, and they are much easier to look after than the average convention-going fan. Talk to the Finns about the difference between running a 10,000 person Finncon, which is open to the public for free, and a 4,000 person Worldcon. They know that the latter would have been harder in many ways.

It may be that we can get away from this idea without giving up on fan-run conventions. Certainly the Finns seem to manage. So do the French. And Liburnicon tries to do the same thing. But old-time British and American fans are so wedded to the “membership, not a ticket” idea that it is going to be a really hard sell, if not impossible.

By the way, please don’t fall for the tired, old “lit-fan-membership / media-fan-ticket” dichotomy. People who are media fans can work just as hard on fan conventions as anyone else. And people who read books are often very keen on gate shows. What do you think literary festivals are?

Exhibit 3: Fans Are Inflexible

The thing that really got me thinking down these lines was this post by Andrea Philips, who sees the problems of Worldcon being all down to it being a fan-run event. Her basic thesis is that fans, being fans, are too selfish, insular and stupid to ever be able to appeal to anyone beyond their own narrow interests. Was I insulted? You bet I was.

Still, apparently all fan-run events have a duty to think outside of the box and reach out to people who are not like them. So BristolCon has a duty to stop being an event devoted mainly to books and art, and should actively start doing more programming on media, on computer games and so on. And WisCon should stop selfishly focusing on feminist issues and broaden their appeal, perhaps by having John Ringo and René Walling as their next Guests of Honor.

Or maybe not.

Then again, one of the points about Worldcon is that it is designed to be a big tent event. That is, you get in a whole load of different fan groups and get each of them to contribute their particular expertise and interest to the event. It isn’t always easy to cover everything every year, because you are reliant to some extent on the local fandoms, but that is the design objective. That’s why there is so much programming.

Then again, there are ways in which Ms. Philips is absolutely right, because fan run events are slow to change. They are slow because they run on consensus, not on command and control. And Worldcon is slower than anything else because it does try to involve everyone, and it has a whole lot of democratic systems in place to try to ensure that everyone gets a fair hearing.

Unfortunately democracy is not what people want from something that, these days, is regarded as a commercial service. When someone complains online that they want Worldcon to do X they mean that they want to see it done next year, or they will find some other con that does do X. They most emphatically do not want to be told: “well, that’s a good point, but we have limited resources and other people wanting other things; shall we sit down and talk about it for a year or two and try to reach a compromise?”

Of course there is no guarantee that a professionally run Worldcon would be any faster to change. Just look at IBM, or Microsoft, or Nokia, or any other large organization that has fallen behind the bleeding edge of popular expectations. But at least a professionally run event would either say yes or no. It would not drag things out, and expect the people asking for change to help achieve it.

Exhibit 4: Rising Expectations

Back in the dark ages of the 20th Century, amateur-run events used to get something of a free ride when it came to expected standards. Everyone knew that the people in charge were doing what they did in their spare time, and a certain amount of roughness around the edges was not only acceptable, it was expected, and rather charming. That no longer applies.

These days, if you run an event — any event — people expect it to be run professionally. If it isn’t, they will let you know. No amount of complaining that you are all volunteers will save you. I know that’s not fair, I know you were only doing your best, but cultural attitudes change, and we have to change with them.

Sometimes, of course, the complaints are unreasonable. For example, at ConJosé we had someone turn up at a gripe session to tell us that it was absolutely unacceptable that he could not get into every Kaffeklatsch he wanted. If a given event was full, it was our duty to find more time slots and more rooms, and schedule that author for as many Kaffeklatsches as the members required, so that everyone got their fair turn.

Thankfully, back in 2002, we didn’t have social media. Otherwise we would never have heard the end of how full of FAIL we were for not giving this poor fellow what he wanted.

These days one of the first appointments any Worldcon needs to make is a social media expert to handle the inevitable shit storms that will blow up. They also, of course, need an expert web designer (and you would have thought that would be easy, given how many techies there are in fandom, but many convention websites are still dreadful). And they need someone good enough with tech to handle live streaming of events without them crashing all of the time. They need people skilled at negotiating with publishers to get the Hugo Voter Packet put together. The number of experts that you need to run a successful Worldcon is increasing all of the time.

What Worldcon desperately needs is continuity. Some of that it gets from having a small and dedicated group of people who work on it every year. But they burn out from all that time, effort and cost, and are getting older and more out of touch with the skills required. Meanwhile the management changes every year. Worse, most attempts to provide continuity are fiercely resisted by traditionalists because they see it as a first step towards Worldcon having full-time, paid staff; something which, as I noted above, is anathema to them.

If Worldcon were the only game in town it wouldn’t matter, but the events that it gets compared to: most notably Dragon*Con and the San Diego Comic Con, are professionally run and do have some full time staff (though they also rely a lot on volunteers). If we don’t match up to their level of performance, we will be judged as inferior, no matter how unfair we think that is.

Exhibit 5: The War On SMOFs

In case you hadn’t noticed, there is a war going on out there. On one extreme we have hardline conservative fans who have been running Worldcon for decades and would rather see it die than see it change, especially if that change involves being “politically correct”. On the other extreme we have social justice campaigners, some of whom have never been to a Worldcon and have no intention of ever going to one, but who are absolutely sure that Worldcon and all of those responsible for it are EVIL incarnate. In the middle are the people who are trying hard to run better conventions; people who are getting shot at from both sides and being forced to pick which camp they will favor. It seems like you can’t even mention the term SMOF any more without one side claiming that you have just been horrible and exclusionary and the other claiming that you are oppressing them.

By the way, please don’t tell me that your little, local convention is doing much better. It isn’t. What it is, is under the radar. Worldcon gets this flak because it is high profile, and has a large membership, but a small con could very easily fall foul of the same sort of issue. It does, after all, only take one idiot to do something offensive, or one person to take offense where none was intended. I should be looking forward to BristolCon. Instead I’m mainly terrified that something will go wrong and we’ll end up in the middle of one of these shit storms. I’m starting to lose sleep over it, and the con is still 6 weeks away.

And don’t assume that the fact that you are doing a whole lot of good things will save you. I am getting rather tired of reading blog posts that provide lists of things that Worldcon should do if it is to evolve, and coming away thinking: “you’ve never been to a Worldcon, have you, we’ve been doing all that for years.”

What I find interesting about the whole thing (and Goddess knows I have to find something interesting, because it is mostly deeply depressing) is that the level of vitriol aimed at Worldcon is far worse than I’ve seen aimed at professional events. Part of that, I think, is because we don’t do social media well. There isn’t some calm and well-mannered person whose job it is to smooth ruffled feathers. What we have instead is a large group of people who have just worked their arses off, who are often socially clueless, and may be quick to anger. We have always had flame wars, of course. It amazes me how people used to keep them going when you had to wait a month for the next fanzine letter column to arrive. Now, though, you can respond instantly on Twitter, and if you say one word of out place you can guarantee that infelicitous phrasing will be re-tweeted by someone on the other side who has 20,000 followers.

However, I also think that there is a real social dynamic at work here. Plenty of people have written about how those of us who live online tend to exist in social bubbles of like-minded folks that we get on with. When a disagreement does blow up in such a group it can seem far more serious, and become more vicious, because the participants know each other well. Just look at how left-wing activists are always tearing each other apart online. We’ve got the same problem.

It is also sadly true that it is much easier, and more satisfying, to win an argument against someone in your in-group than it is against someone from a rival social grouping. There can be a real sense of achievement from bringing down someone known to you who was previously well thought of. Your chances of doing that sort of damage to someone you don’t know, and who comes from a social group that despises you, are far less.

I suspect in time we monkeys will get better at understanding how social media works, and will develop strategies to prevent us from harming each other so badly. Unfortunately by that time we’ll have invented a new mode of communication and the whole cycle will start all over again.

My point is, however, that there is no upside to running fan conventions anymore. There is no satisfaction in a job well done. The only probable outcome is that you will spend the weeks after the convention dealing with angry and disappointed attendees, and avoiding social media because you don’t want to have to read the awful things that are being said about you.

Yes, yes, I know. I have said some pretty rude things about some conventions in the past. I have also tried to give credit where it is due. I very much hope that when I reported on conventions I was doing so from a position of knowledge, and with the intention of helping people do better in the future. That’s not what I see happening now.

Last week while I was tweeting about Worldcon someone I’d never seen before (but who had an avatar of a brown-skinned male) said to me that from what he was hearing he never wanted to go anywhere near Worldcon. All I could say was that from what I was hearing I never wanted to go anywhere near one either. And yet I have been to many of them, and enjoyed them immensely. I wasn’t in San Antonio, but I find it hard to believe that they could have got that much worse that quickly. As I said in a tweet to John Scalzi, I don’t think that any Worldcon I have attended would have been judged a success had it been held to the standards being required of San Antonio.

Which is not to say that Worldcon should not aim to get better. I just don’t think any fan-run event can change fast enough to meet the standards now being set, and I have a sneaking suspicion that no fan-run event will ever meet the standards now required of it by other fans, now that so much of the criticism comes from people outside of the group that runs and attends the events.

It pains me to say this, but if someone were to come to me now and say that they were planning to start a convention, particularly if they were planning on bidding for a Worldcon, I would tell them not to be so bloody stupid, because no good can come of it, especially for them.

Postscript

Yes, I know that I haven’t suggested much in the way of positive alternatives. I will try to do so in the future, but I think I have gone on quite long enough for now.

The Audio Book Mess

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.

*sigh*

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.