Another year, another outbreak of fannish outrage over the Hugo Finalists. This one affects me personally, because it is about an attempt to have one of the finalists thrown off the ballot. Hence a blog post.
Many years ago, when I first started getting to be a Finalist, fans were outraged. I was the Wrong Sort of Fan. Emerald City was the Wrong Sort of Fanzine. It published book reviews! It was published electronically rather than on paper! The Horror!!!
So certain persons got their knickers in a twist and demanded that the Hugo Administrators of the day exclude me from the ballot. The Hugo Administrators did nothing of the sort. The voters had put me on the final ballot, so it was my right to be there.
Of course we didn’t have social media in those days, so the experience wasn’t so intense for me as it is these days. No one was likely to doxx or SWAT me. But when I won my first Hugo, fans on the Worldcon committee posted a rant denouncing me to the convention website. Kudos to Con Chair, Deb Geisler, for ordering it to be taken down.
Anyway, the point is that once a work gets onto the final ballot, it stays there, regardless of how much some fans might hate it. If you don’t like a work, you vote it below No Award. That’s what we did with the Puppies. It is a tried and tested, and well-known procedure.
It is worth noting that some of the Puppy works that were allowed on the Final Ballot were a good deal more offensive than the Natalie Luhrs piece.
It is also worth noting that many of the people complaining about Luhrs being on the ballot have been around fandom a long time and are well aware of how the Hugos work. They know that the Hugo Administrators can’t remove her without discrediting the entire process.
One response to that is to argue that, while the work cannot be removed by DC3, Luhrs herself should withdraw it. That brings us to a short history lesson.
Back in 1986 Worldcon awarded Best Professional Editor to the late Judy-Lynn Del Rey. She was a fascinating person. Check her out.
At the Hugo ceremony, Judy-Lynn’s husband, Lester, declined to accept the award on the grounds that Judy would not have wanted to win just because she’d died. Worldcon fandom does have a very bad habit of only recognising people’s achievements posthumously. But the award stood.
Since then, Worldcons have always asked Finalists to confirm their willingness to be on the ballot before announcing it. Even so, you can withdraw if you want. A couple of people did, having realised that they had been made use of by the Puppies.
However, there is a big difference between withdrawing in protest because you feel that the contest has been unfairly influenced, and withdrawing because you have been bullied into it by a social media campaign. I’m sure that back in my day there were people who hope that if they were nasty enough to me then I would go away. That wasn’t acceptable then, and it is not acceptable now.
Of course, the whole thing is being framed as an issue under the Code of Conduct. This is depressingly familiar. We are all now very used to the tone-policing line of argument which holds that polite racism is perfectly acceptable, but merely calling someone a racist is an unforgivable offence.
Exactly the same sort of thing happens in trans rights discourse. It is apparently OK for people to tell the most outrageous porkies about trans people, and to call for us to be eliminated, but calling someone transphobic is the worst possible insult ever #ClutchPearls #AttackOfTheVapours
However, Codes of Conduct are tricky things. A legal case about an alleged CoC violation was brought against the 2018 Worldcon. That case is still ongoing. It is not clear how it will be decided, but either way it is likely to cost that Worldcon an eye-watering sum of money.
That is money that could, and should, have been passed on to successor Worldcons, and been used to support other fannish projects.
Which brings us back to the Natalie Luhrs case. The people attacking her should know that, by WSFS rules, she can’t be removed from that ballot. Nevertheless, by invoking the CoC, they seem to be using the potential threat of a massively damaging lawsuit to frighten DC3 into doing what they want.
This would put DC3 in a very difficult position. If they kick Luhrs off the ballot in contravention of WSFS rules then they destroy public confidence in the Hugos. If they don’t then they risk a protracted and very expensive lawsuit.
Which brings me back to my article in the latest Salon Futura, where I suggest that running a Worldcon is now too complicated to be left to a one-off group of enthusiastic volunteers.
Either way, this affair risks doing a huge amount of damage to Worldcon, the Hugos and fandom in general. And given the people involved I have to assume that some of them know exactly what they are doing.