One More Thing on #Priestgate

Yesterday Pat Cadigan posted an open letter to The Guardian in response to their coverage of the Clarke Award controversy. Pat has been a member of the Clarke jury, and as such has valuable insights into the way the process works. It is possible that the rules have been changed since her time in the job, but Tom Hunter hasn’t contradicted her, and did tweet to thank her for the letter, so I’m assuming that what Pat says still applies. This is the bit I want to highlight:

Jury members for the Clarke may serve for two years. During that time, they agree to keep deliberations confidential. That means not revealing who liked–or hated–what book, or which books narrowly missed the shortlist, or which books they favoured. The chairman is likewise expected to keep shut and is enjoined from trying to influence the five jury members in any way.

There are several things that arise from this. The first is that the jury undertook, when they agreed to serve, not to discuss their deliberations in public. Not all juries work this way. In stark contrast the World Fantasy Award jurors are expected to appear on a panel immediately after the award ceremony to defend their decisions. The Clarke jury, however, cannot say anything, no matter how much they might want to right now.

Secondly, while the title of Chair might suggest that Andrew Butler in some way controls the jury, Pat makes clear that this post is purely administrative. Even if Butler totally disagreed with the jury’s choices, he is bound not to interfere. Criticizing him for having failed in his duty by not ensuring a better short list, as Priest does, therefore completely misses the mark. Indeed, Butler may well have been gritting his teeth in anguish at the books chosen, but if he was it would still have been his duty to say nothing.

Finally, the fact that the Chair is prevented from attempting to influence the jury in any way is clear evidence that the Clarke Award does not have much in the way of a political agenda. Beyond picking the jury, there is nothing that the Award management can do to influence the result.

Note also that the jurors have to be able to get to meetings in London, be able to commit to a time-consuming, unpaid task, be knowledgeable about SF, and serve no more than two years each. That means that picking the jury is not necessarily an easy task. After this year, finding people willing to serve on the jury will be much more difficult.

Of course it doesn’t have to be this way. If British fandom would like the Clarke to be run in a different manner they can try to pressure Tom and his colleagues to make changes. But this is how things work now, and anyone criticizing this year’s short list should do so within the context of the current rules, not on the basis of how they imagine or would like the rules to be.

9 thoughts on “One More Thing on #Priestgate

  1. That was a very nice, reasoned response to an unpleasant situation. If only other awards were structured this way and not so susceptible to political pressure…

    1. I think most of them in our field are. While awards like the Tiptree might reward specific types of writing, the jury is still given a very free rein. Awards in other areas, where more money is at stake, might be more political, but I have no evidence for that.

  2. “In stark contrast the World Fantasy Award jurors are expected to appear on a panel immediately after the award ceremony to defend their decisions”

    For what it’s worth, I’ve been a World Fantasy Awards juror and I’ve been on the post-ceremony panel, but I don’t recall it being particularly confrontational or any sense that we were obliged to spell out the details of how we arrived at our decisions. Indeed I think we were pretty circumspect about our own internal process as a jury. So while there’s definitely a contrast with the way the Clarke Award handles things, I’m not sure it’s “stark”…

    1. Fair enough. The few such panels I have been to have indeed been very civilized.

      Of course WFC is a professional networking event, not a fan convention. I suspect that a post-Clarke panel at Eastercon would be far more confrontational than any post-WFA panel.

  3. Hi Cheryl

    Yep, Pat’s description of the way we work the judging process is still very much the way we run things – The Chair of Judges, currently Andrew Butler, is there to facilitate the debate and I’m not even in the room when that debate takes place and only find out the shortlist afterwards.

    In fact in the first couple of years after I took on the director’s role I didn’t even know the who the winner was until the moment the envelope was opened and so found out at precisely the same moment everyone else did.

    There are certain potential circumstances where either Andrew or I might be required to become more involved in the decision-making process, but that wouldn’t include guiding the judges to a particular decision, safe or otherwise, and would rather be in the area where, for instance, the debate needs to be ended and a decision has to be made because we’re about to go on stage and open an envelope with nothing inside.

    This has never got even close to happening on my watch though, and I’m pretty sure it’s not occurred in the award’s 26 year history. There’s a very good reason why we have an odd number of judges on the panel – no even splits if it comes to a hard vote.

    In terms of the Clarke Award judges speaking on a panel or similar, this idea has been floated but is not for me a very practical one.

    The obvious venue is Eastercon, but this would require that every judge have to agree to attending that event and take on the extra time and financial commitment in addition to the already substantial commitments they’ve made in becoming a judge in the first place.

    I’m also not sure that I’m entirely happy with the idea that the judges should in some way be required to answer for or justify their collective decision in front of fandom as it were, andthere’s the traditional Science Fiction Foundation organised Not The Clarke panel at Eastercon which probably actually serves the purpose of discussing the shortlisted books better than a panel with the actual judges since the panel are free to disagree with both the shortlist and each other. Given SFF also makes the effort to typically ensure the panelists include past Clarke Award judges there’s still, in my mind, a fair reflection of how that shortlist decision would have been reached.

    More fundamentally though, I think the audience for the Clarke Award conversation extends way beyond the area of fandom that somewhere like Eastercon represents (not that there’s anything wrong with that audience, you understand) and it’s why we’ve teamed up with SFX magazine for example as a media partner to make sure we can get the word out to as many different parts of the science fiction readership as possible.

    Sometimes we just need a media partner to achieve that aim, other times nothing but a priest will do…

  4. Wanted to register (as two-stint former ACC panel member) my sense that the procedure/protocols Tom Hunter describes seem a proper mature point to have reached, a proper stability to have achieved.

    Chris’s Modest Proposal may have been intended in all seriousness, though I kind of wonder in a way; but a good result is perhaps Tom’s description of the judges’ role as it is and should remain.

  5. Just to confirm what everyone else has said. That’s the way it works. The year I was on, we were almost late for the ceremony. But we still came to a decision, and none of us has ever talked about it.

    And to be fair, no one has ever questioned whether we came to the right decision or not. These things are always arguable, but *not* with the judges.

Comments are closed.