The Sky Is Falling (again)

Over at File 770, Mike Glyer is wringing his hands in horror at a potential change to the eligibility rules for fanzines. Here is the text of the change in question:

3.3.12: Best Fanzine. Any generally available non-professional publication devoted to science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects which by the close of the previous calendar year has published four (4) or more issues (or the equivalent in other media), at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year, and which does not qualify as a semiprozine.

The underlined section is the bit that is being added to the definition. The bit in italics was highlighted by me. You’ll see why in a minute.

Those of you who have been following the ongoing debate about the eligibility of electronic media in the Hugos will know that this is part of a much wider project to make it clear that paper publication is not a requirement of eligibility. That has, of course, been the case for some time, but some people still keep arguing that the term “issues” somehow implies paper publication and not, say, a podcast program, or a a periodic update of a web site. Hence the plan is to introduce language that will remove the validity of such claims.

Mike, however, thinks that this will results in major changes to the fanzines that appear on the ballot. He thinks it “a realistic possibility” that next year’s fanzine nominees will be: eFanzines, Locus Online, SF Site, SF Signal, Whatever. Furthermore he offers up as a possibility this list of nominees: io9,, SCI FI Wire, SF Universe,

Quelle horreur!

I find this a little odd. The first list is, I suppose, possible, but I suspect many people will argue that Locus Online and SF Site are semiprofessional, and that, marvelous service though it is, is not actually a publication at all. As for the second list, you’ll note that all of the web sites listed are owned by commercial operations – in some cases huge multinationals. They are not, by any stretch of the imagination, “non-professional”.

Mike has an answer for this. Apparently there is a danger that the great unwashed masses of fandom, slavish in their devotion to the latest fashionable trend, will vote for them anyway. And the Hugo Administrator (who next year will be Mr. Vincent Docherty) will be too scared to do anything about it.

Now, I am a cat of very little brain, and I sometimes have difficulty understanding fannish paranoia. And what I don’t understand here is this. If fandom is going to vote for the likes of i09 in Best Fanzine because electronic publications are explicitly eligible (as opposed to implicitly eligible as they were before), why haven’t they previously filled the ballot with the likes of paper magazines such as SFX, Sci-Fi Now, Sci-Fi Magazine or Starlog? Can someone please explain this to me?

Nor am I very impressed with Mike’s plea for “more concrete rules”. Haven’t we been through this enough already. WSFS spent years having committees look over the proposed Dramatic Presentation split, with the end result that no one could agree and we did it anyway. We’ve also spent years having committees look at electronic publication, and the only thing that came out of that was that we realized that a Best Web Site category would probably be a mistake. The truth is that no set of rules can perfectly capture every possible wrinkle, and the more detailed you make the rules the more likely it is that a) you will accidentally exclude someone, and b) that you’ll have to keep changing the rules year after year as new technologies emerge. When it comes to Hugo rule changes a plea for more discussion and more precise rules is almost always a delaying tactic to prevent the change being made.

Still, there is one thing I do commend Mike for – his determination to try to protect the rights of the little guy. His primary concern is that people who work hard to produce fanzines as a hobby will be elbowed aside from their rightful category by people who are doing the same thing as a job. Mike, I am sure, would never advocate removing a Hugo category and forcing hard-working amateur editors to compete against full-time professionals, would he now?

11 thoughts on “The Sky Is Falling (again)

  1. Mike:

    Not the victim politics card again. Can’t you for once take responsibility for what you say?

    Besides, you said only yesterday that you wanted an entertaining fight.

  2. I think that in this case, fans can and should be trusted to interpret the spirit of the rule change as , “Hey, non-professional, electronic/webzines are eligible”, which is exactly how I interpret it.

    If it looked as though and the like about to overrun the nomination process, it’s the duty of the Hugo Administrator to step in and make the proper ruling.

    Of course, some drum beating in advance of such a change would diminish Mike’s fear’s and would be more than happy to help out, should a change come about…

    Chris M. Barkley

  3. “We’ve also spent years having committees look at electronic publication, and the only thing that came out of that was that we realized that a Best Web Site category would probably be a mistake.”

    Having been mostly gafia the past decade, I haven’t followed this. Are the evaluations made in past years still valid in 2009 and the future? Can you elaborate on the reasoning of why, in this day and age, such a category would “probably be a mistake, for those of us who haven’t been on the “smofs” mailing list, or otherwise participating in the discussions in many years, perhaps?

  4. Gary:

    The thing about the Internet is that it is a medium, not a type of work. Having a Hugo for Best Web Site would be like having a Hugo for Best Thing Printed on Paper. And people would immediately want to subdivide it. There would be calls for separating out professional web sites from fan web sites; fiction web sites from non-fiction web sites; and so on. Then we’d get a situation where a really good novel published only online was either going to win both Best Novel and Best Web Site, or would somehow be ineligible for Best Novel.

    So instead we have gone for trying to remove the medium from the equation. You can have a fanzine published on paper, on the web, or as txt messages if you really want. We do still distinguish between a story that is plain words, words and static pictures, or performed in some way, because those require different skill sets; but I can actually imagine video fanzine.

    And I think this is as future-proof as we can make things, because it makes very few assumptions about future technological developments.

  5. Okay, I can sort of see that argument, but I can’t say that, as presented here, I agree with it. I would, myself, specify that a Best Website Award be limited to primarily non-fiction, on the grounds that we already have fiction Hugos. Beyond that, my purely personal opinion is that I don’t see a compelling need to further subdivide websites between pro and fan. So that takes care of both arguments, leaving… no reason you’ve yet mentioned here. (Other than, of course, the standard background assumption of No New Hugos Without A Compelling Need, a principle I agree with.)

    But lumping together fanzines and all websites and blogs, doesn’t make any sense to me, either. Including a fanzine specifically or only available as a PDF in the Best Fanzine category: fine. Making other websites or blogs compete as fanzines, however, makes no sense whatever to me. Fanzines aren’t websites, or blogs, and websites and blogs aren’t fanzines. They’re just not like each other at all, other than that they all contain words. In my view.

    “but I can actually imagine video fanzine.”

    Sure, and there are already zillions of YouTube videos one might nominate for Best Dramatic Presentation, I suppose, and I have no problem envisioning a website primarily or entirely consisting of presenting material in video format under a Best Website award, but that would still be a website. I really don’t think the WWW is going away any time soon, and neither does ignoring it, or claiming that everything done on the web is a fanzine, make the least bit of sense to me.

    “…ou can have a fanzine published on paper, on the web, or as txt messages if you really want.”

    I think txt messages, or tweets, are more akin to oral conversation, and that if you are completely divorcing medium from message, one might just as well assert that a given conversation at a convention or club meeting or restaurant is eligible for Best Fanzine.

    In other words, while I don’t think medium is the sole, or necessarily even important, criterion in discussing what might or might not be a Hugo category, I don’t see it as reasonable to try to utterly divorce from consideration what the medium is, either. If we’re seriously doing that, what exactly is the point of having a separate Dramatic Presentation Award, let alone two of them, from the fiction awards, and the Best Fanzine Award? Why bother having a “Best Related Book Award,” rather than just giving an award for Best Related Nonfiction,” and specifying “book”?

    I’m not actually seeing the alleged consistency here.

    But, then, I’m mostly gafia, so I’m not claiming anyone need listen to my arguments, either. I’m just talking about them on a blog! Which isn’t the same as the old fanzine you used to do, or the fanzine website you used to do! 🙂

  6. Gary:

    One of the things we discovered in debating this is that if we had a best Web Site Hugo there was a significant group of people who would fight to their last breath to have that split into fan and pro, we would have had to add two awards.

    And note that we are not lumping all web sites into Fanzine. To qualify as a fanzine the site still have to be non-profit and (at least currently) to have recognizable issues. Glyer’s contention that Fanzine will be swamped with professional sites was a pure red herring.

    As to dramatic presentations, the defining characteristic is that they are dramatized – they require the addition of actors, a director and so on.

    Sorry for a very brief response. Worldcon in progress.

  7. “One of the things we discovered in debating this is that if we had a best Web Site Hugo there was a significant group of people who would fight to their last breath to have that split into fan and pro, we would have had to add two awards”

    Good to know; I see the relevancy, and understand the arguments, without hearing them.

    “To qualify as a fanzine the site still have to be non-profit”

    I’d like to see the language on that; “non-profit” by most definitions doesn’t mean, for instance, it can’t pay the editor a salary of $100k a year, so long as the endeavor overall loses money, or most of the money goes to a 501(c)3, or whatever, as you know.

    “As to dramatic presentations, the defining characteristic is that they are dramatized – they require the addition of actors, a director and so on.”

    My point there is that you’re not divorcing medium, however. As I understand it, someone reading a short story aloud is a Dramatic Presentation, is it not? But the only difference is not the words, but the medium: vocalized versus reading to yourself. Is a live reading not “live theater”? Or does it make a difference if two people take turns reading the story? How about if someone rings a gong during the reading? Do I misunderstand? Has there ever been a ruling on whether a dramatic reading is or is not “live theater,” or has it just never arisen? I’ve certainly seen/heard plenty of dramatic readings.

    “Sorry for a very brief response. Worldcon in progress.”

    Completely understand, of course.

    You update here that “we ratified the ‘Making the Web Eligible’ motion, which will hopefully put an end to all of the claims that online writing is not eligible for the Hugos,” but you say above that “to qualify as a fanzine the site still [has] to have recognizable issues, so that would seem to say that blogs are not eligible for “Best Fanzine,” although obviously blog writers will continue to be able to win the “Best Fan Writer” award, and I’m fine with that.

    I’m just not absolutely sure it would or will silence absolutely every single person who might still hissy their fit. But whatever; as I said, I’m fine with it, and that’s really all that matters, right?

    Have an excellent time.

  8. Gary:

    The whole issue of professional v amateur and who makes money doing what is due to be discussed by the committee that was set up after the Semiprozine debate today. It isn’t going to be easy. Kevin and I have been trying to find a solution for a long time and haven’t yet come up with anything watertight.

    On the medium issue, John Hertz and I had an interesting discussion about this on the Fan Writer panel today. Again it isn’t easy. Clearly a Hollywood movie is a very different type of production to a novel. On the other hand a simple audiobook read by the author is a very similar to the actual novel being read.

    Mike appears to think that just because online writing is now eligible in various categories that web sites owned by huge multinational corporations will magically become eligible as fanzines. I think maybe he needs to eat fewer mushrooms.

  9. Gary:

    Eventually — not immediately; bandwidth issues — the actual discussion video will be accessible, so people can listen to the discussions themselves.

    In my opinion, people wanting a completely watertight definition are engaged in what I call the toothpaste-tube fallacy: thinking that the way to get control of something is to squeeze it harder. Try doing this to a tube of toothpaste and see what happens.

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