First up today, if anyone has actually come here from Larry Nolen’s blog wondering what I have to say about a Hugo for Genre Poetry, all I can say is that McCalmont is wrong, as usual, (and check the date on Larry’s post).
Rather more seriously, I am continuing to see rumbling about the Short Story situation. I’d like everyone to bear three things in mind:
1. There is no secret conspiracy to defraud short story writers of the nominations that are their right.
2. There is nothing new in Short Story having a very broad pattern of nominations. This sort of thing has happened before.
3. It is not the job of the Hugo Administrators to fix the result of the ballot to give the results that other people might want, it is their job to follow the rules.
Here is a cautionary tale (now somewhat edited – see Kevin’s comment below for an explanation).
In 1994 we had exactly the same issue as we have this year – the 5% rule resulted in only three short stories being eligible for the ballot. The reason that we don’t see that in the historical record is that the Administrators did what some people are yelling to have done this year – they fixed the results to get nominees. It was all very legal, and I’ll explain how they did it, and what the consequences were, shortly.
First, however, I want you to note that this was 1994. Most people hadn’t even heard of the Internet. There were no online short fiction magazines. 13 of the 16 short fiction nominees came from the big three fiction magazines, and 2 from Ellen Datlow’s Omni. So if you want to spin a story about how what happened this year (and the 4 Short Story ballot of 2011) is all a result of online magazines, you have to explain how they managed to travel through time to 1994, or provide an alternative explanation for what happened then. Having watched the Hugos closely for almost 20 years, my view is that a broad range of nominees is inherent to the Short Story category, not something that has only just happened.
OK, so we are back in 1994 and we only have three short stories on our ballot. What can we do that is legal? Consider this:
3.2.9: The Worldcon Committee may relocate a story into a more appropriate category if it feels that it is necessary, provided that the length of the story is within the lesser of five thousand (5,000) words or twenty
percent (20%) of the new category limits.
Back in 1994 the 20% option didn’t exist, so the Hugo Administrators could re-allocate novelettes to Short Story if they were less than 12,500 words. As it happened, there were a couple of novelettes below that limit that would get 5% of the vote if they were in Short Story, and sufficient remaining novelettes for a full ballot in their category too. So the Hugo Administrators (David Bratman, Seth Goldberg, Peter Jarvis, Athena Jarvis and Kevin Standlee) decided to move the two short novelettes and make a full ballot.
You can see how I know about this. Kevin didn’t take that decision himself, but I can assure you that he’s been scarred for life by the experience. Fandom was furious. The professional writers were furious too. One of the moved novelettes won the category. I understand that Mike Resnick, who had an actual short story on the ballot, was hopping mad. (Mike, if you are reading his, feel free to explain how you saw it.)
That year the Business Meeting was packed. You couldn’t change the results, but the 1994 Hugo Admins were left in no doubt that fiddling with the ballot, even if it was completely within the rules, would not be tolerated. And that’s why, to this day, whoever is in charge simply enforces the rules. Activist Administration is simply not worth the risk.
So, as I said yesterday, if you want something done about the 5% rule (and I think that may be wise, because of the increasing number of voters, not because of any seismic shift in the nature of the field), then get the rules changed. Please don’t yell “shame” or “conspiracy”. All we can ask of the Administrators is that they implement the rules correctly.