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, SyFy.com, SCI FI Wire, SF Universe, Tor.com.
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 eFanzines.com, 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?