Another issue that will come up for debate at this year’s WSFS Business Meeting was last year’s decision by the Mark Protection Committee (MPC) to bar me from working for the Hugo Award Marketing Committee (HAMC). The excuse given for this is that by working for the committee I was at an unfair advantage in the Hugo Awards (and by implication the Hugos won by myself, in 2009, and Clarkesworld, in 2010, had been won unfairly). However, this excuse is such a transparent fabrication that I am in no doubt that it was aimed squarely at getting rid of me, and casting doubt on my Hugo wins. Let’s take a closer look at what is involved.
First of all, what is this work that I was doing that gave me this unfair advantage? Well, I built and maintained the official Hugo Award website. That was largely an administrative job. I made a point of not signing posts with my own name so that I would not be seen as representing the Hugos. I also helped behind the scenes with running the logo contest, but again I made a point of letting Kevin be the front man whenever possible. The only major official public action I took while on the HAMC was hosting the live coverage from Melbourne. This is something I had done for several years via SF Awards Watch. And when I finally got asked to do it officially on the Hugo website, rather than on my own, suddenly this became “cheating”, despite the fact that I didn’t to it until after the votes for 2009 and 2010 had been cast.
I note that I have never served on a Hugo Administration committee, or been involved in putting together the Voter Packet.
Now obviously there is a conflict of interest of some sort. But conflicts of interest abound in the SF&F community. I’d have to give up reviewing if I restricted myself to only reviewing books by people I didn’t know. And other people on the HAMC have an interest in the results of the awards too. Rene Walling, the current chair of the HAMC, runs a small press. Should a work that he published be up for a Hugo, that would be perfectly OK under the HAMC ruling, because he would not be the author. Rene is also on the staff of a very fine fanzine, The Portal, but any nomination would be in the name of the editor, Val Grimm, so Rene would still be clear to serve on the HAMC. It seems, therefore, that a conflict of interest is only a conflict of interest if it involves you personally winning a Hugo, not if it involves your business or your colleagues winning one. It is a distinction, but it is a pretty shaky one, and one designed specifically to only exclude me.
There are other very specific and personal issues involved here. I have tried hard to not become one of those people who wins too many Hugos. When I finally beat Dave Langford to Best Fan Writer one of the first things I did was rule myself out of competition for the following year. And I have kept doing that. I would only have put my hat back into the ring if Dave had started winning again. I now have a Best Semiprozine Hugo. Had it been up to me, I would be perfectly happy to only win one with Clarkesworld. But I can’t withdraw the magazine, only Neil can do that. And besides, I really want to see Kate get a Hugo, so I’m happy the magazine is still in the running. What I would have liked, would be to get a nomination with Salon Futura. That would have helped my fledgling business quite a lot. It could have been key to helping me get back to the US.
So in order to continue serving on the HAMC I would have had to resign from Clarkesworld, and I would have had to give up any possibility of getting a nomination for Salon Futura, which at the time had only published one issue. I submit to you that the people who chose to bar me from the HAMC knew that they were putting me in an impossible position, and that my hopes of getting back to the US were in part dependent on my continuing to be eligible for Hugos. This was a very, very personal action.
There are, of course, other Hugo winners involved in promoting the Hugos. The Hugo Voter Packet was created by John Scalzi, and we should all be very grateful to him for that. The jury for the logo contest included Neil Gaiman, who has lots of Hugos, and Geri Sullivan, who won one in 2007 for the fanzine, Science Fiction Five-Yearly. Do you think anyone would object to these people helping out the HAMC again? Of course not. The argument would doubtless be made that they were not actually members of the HAMC, they were external consultants. But if Kevin had suggested that I be recruited as an external consultant to help maintain the website, or to host the live coverage, do you think that would be allowed? No, of course not.
In practice, of course, this shouldn’t matter very much. Despite the fact that Kevin and I have been able to do very little for the HAMC this year, we have record turnouts in both the nomination and final ballot stages of the Hugos. The logo is getting used. It could be better, but other people could be recruited to do the jobs that I was doing. I’m perfectly happy to have less volunteer work to do. That’s not what this is all about.
What I am mainly concerned about here is that people have been using small, barely quorate WSFS committees to prosecute a fannish feud, and to go against the wishes of the Business Meeting by trying to prevent the HAMC from getting any work done. It is dirty politics.
People keep asking me why WSFS is not a proper organization with a board of directors: people in charge who can take decisions. Well, the main reason is that if we did it would quickly get mired down in exactly this sort of nonsense. People would be forever pulling back-door tricks of this sort in search of “power”, no matter how illusory and ineffectual that power might be. Unfortunately, even with small, simple committees like the HAMC, people can’t resist the temptation.
The other thing that concerns me is that this is a deliberate attempt to alter the Hugo record. History says that I won a Hugo myself in 2009, and won one with Clarkesworld in 2010. The decision of the MPC meeting in Melbourne clearly implies that those wins were unfairly obtained, because if I wasn’t operating at an unfair advantage it would not have been necessary to bar me from serving on the HAMC. The effect of this is, as they say in sporting halls of fame, to “put an asterisk against my name” in the record. It is absolutely outrageous that a group of 5 people on barely quorate and little-known committee should be able to alter the official record in this way. If they are allowed to get away with in it my case, what it to stop them from doing it to other people as well?
Kevin has more to say about the issue here, in particular he has all the practical details of what is likely to happen at the Business Meeting.