Part of Which Community?

The question of podcasts and the Hugos is continuing to generate a certain amount of heat around the blogosphere (see here, here and here, for example). Much of this is due, I think, to misunderstanding.

With regard to the actual rules, WSFS has come down very firmly on the side of saying that it is the content that matters, not the medium of delivery. So a fanzine can be published in hectograph, mimeo, photocopy, email, as a web site, as a podcast or on YouTube. What matters is that it is a periodical produced by fans for the SF community. If Chris Garcia took to standing up in a bar in San José once a month and talking about his favorite SF movies he could class that as a fanzine (and now I have suggested it of course he’ll do it.)

We (collectively) came to this decision because we realized that the alternative was madness: ever-proliferating categories as different media all demanded their own fanzine category; and the same for fiction as well.

However, different media do tend to appeal to different groups of fans. Some fans prefer paper fanzines; some love LiveJournal; some read blogs more widely; some mainly read online fiction magazines such as Electric Velocipede; others listen to podcasts. There is overlap, but not sufficient overlap to stop people going “who? what???” when something like EV or Star Ship Sofa gets mentioned in the context of the Hugos. There’s a tendency amongst some fans, particularly old-time fanzine fans, to mutter that these fancy newcomers are “not part of our community” and will be “single issue voters” who care nothing about the Hugos and Worldcon except for getting a rocket for their favorite web site or personality.

Sometimes that might be true. I’ve certainly seen people yelling about how unfair the Hugos are who know nothing about them and really don’t care much either. I don’t think that’s the case with Star Ship Sofa. Last year Tony Smith had a whole load of people reporting for him at the Montréal Worldcon. In the archives you can hear Amy Sturgis (also here), Gord Sellar, John Joseph Adams, Kate Baker (also here on the Hugos and here interviewing Neil Clarke). Tony has also podcast a number of Hugo-winning short stories, including last year’s winner, Elizabeth Bear’s “Shoggoths in Bloom”. In other words, Tony and his team put as much effort into covering last year’s Worldcon as I did. And they did that without any expectation of glory because up until recently they had no idea that they might be eligible for a Hugo. That, to my mind, makes Star Ship Sofa very much part of the Worldcon community.

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30 Responses to Part of Which Community?

  1. Garcia already does a periodic recital – it’s called the BASFA Vice President’s report, and you know how verbose (and laden with typos) those can get…

  2. Steven says:

    I’d disagree. Chris reciting would not be a fanzine and I’m sure Jim Freund would be surprised to hear that “Hour of the Wolf” has been a fanzine for all these years. You could just as easily declare them to be eligible in the Best Dramatic Presentation categories.

    • Cheryl says:

      You have to be very careful when you start bringing Dramatic Presentations into this. If you have a policy of media-independence, what is the difference between a podcast story and the same story performed on TV?

      As far as I can see, the only sensible way to make the distinction is that a Dramatic Presentation involves lots of other skills. There are actors, cameramen, costume and make-up people, the director and producer. In the dramatic presentation category, those people are being rewarded as well. If someone simply reads a story aloud, that’s still a story, not a dramatic presentation.

      I’d be happy to entertain alternative suggestions for making the distinction, but I can’t think of anything else that works and is understandable.

      • Rene says:

        Metatropolis made it on the Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form ballot.

        • Cheryl says:

          Yes it did. And it had actors and a production team. It was clearly more than simply reading stories aloud. Unfortunately, contrary to advice I gave at the time, the Hugo Administrator chose to list the nominees as the authors of the stories rather than the director and producer. While I’m pleased for my friends who got Hugo nominations, I believe that this was a very serious error that creates very bad precedent.

          • Hal Duncan says:

            Also, um, Starship Sofa contains podcast stories in the same way F&SF, Interzone and so on do… bundled along with non-fiction in a magazine format. I mean, “magazine” is not a matter of media but of structure and periodicity — hence we talk of magazine shows on tv and radio. I’da thunk that the only possible question here was pro-, semipro- or fan- status.

            I can see a collection of podcast stories (even single voice presentations, tbh,) as comparable to shows like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. (Or if there was an SF Jackanory for adults.) We’re talking about performances of fiction, gathered in an anthology format. If it were Escape Pod we were talking about, I guess you *might* say this is more like an anthology series such as Polyphony, so you’d really expect any nominations to go to individual pieces in the dramatic presentation, short form category. Like nominating an episode of The Twilight Zone.

            If a shared-world variant of that like Metatropolis goes into the dramatic presentation, long form category, I guess it could raise some questions over how a print equivalent (Wild Cards?) fits into the picture. If the novel category doesn’t allow for… ensemble narratives, is it weird that the performative category does? I’m not asking that out of any “hey, that’s *wrong*” notion, btw, but rather to make the point that Starship Sofa is neither a series of small-scale narratives nor a single large-scale ensemble of (linked) narratives.

            Starship Sofa isn’t Escape Pod or Metatropolis, any more than F&SF is Polyphony or Wild Cards. It’s a periodical ensemble of stories and articles — a magazine.

  3. Phil Ackerman says:

    Totally agree with what you say Cheryl. Personally my only contact with the Hugos is reading the fiction (and I do love SF). I have been listening to the SSS for a few years now and I feel Tony has built up a great community, it would be great to see his hard work (and the hard work of his little helpers), rewarded.

  4. Pingback: Hugos and podcasts : The Murverse

  5. Church says:

    If the ‘Sofa isn’t a fanzine, I don’t know what that word means anymore.

    • Cheryl says:

      Clearly you were not about when I was being told that Emerald City could not be eligible for the Best Fanzine Hugo because it was about science fiction.

      Some of the people complaining about podcasts not being fanzines are the same people who claim that their community invented the term “fanzine” and therefore they have the right to decide what it means.

      • Daveon says:

        I do sometimes feel that the same groups were rather put out that any technology is displaced and that this printing nonsense will never really replace hand copied calligraphy.

  6. See, I’m one of those folks who seriously doesn’t think that Podcasts are Fanzines. If I were to read The Drink Tank at a bar every week (and now that you put that idea in my head, I may well have to do it!) it wouldn’t be a fanzine. It would be a dramatic presentation.

    To me there is a clear distinction: writing vs. performance. Even just talking about stuff in a public forum is performance (regardless of the production values or delivery method), but written work is what fanzines are. To me, that’s the critical difference.

    I will give a hypothetical: a writer writes a story and as its delivery method, decides not to put it in a magazine, but reads it on NPR. It’s obviously eligible for Best Dramatic Presentation, but is it eligible for for Best Short Story? If it is, then yeah, I can see Podcasts being Fanzines, even though it doesn’t make sense to me. It’s inconsistent, but that happens. If it’s not, why are Podcasts different?

    Chris

    • Cheryl says:

      A good test of any distinction between award categories is that it should not lead to an absurd result. If simply being read aloud makes something a “dramatic presentation” then every story that has ever been written becomes eligible as a DP simply by passing it through a text-to-speech conversion. There has to be something more to a DP than that, otherwise the distinction between the forms becomes meaningless.

      Works should not become eligible in more than one category just by switching formats. I remember, for example, the fuss that erupted when Locus and Emerald City were nominated for both Best Fanzine and Best Web Site, even though the web sites contained substantial additional material beyond the magazine content, and in the case of Locus was the responsibility of an entirely different team. It was that sort of issue that led WSFS to drop the idea of a separate web site category.

      By the way, Jim Kelly has already won a Nebula for a story that was podcast.

      In any case, if you think that something that is as clearly a fan-run magazine as Star Ship Sofa cannot be eligible as a “fanzine” because it is podcast rather than written, and must therefore compete against professional TV series, surely you should be arguing for a Fan Dramatic Presentation category. Or better still, rename the fanzine category as “Fan Production”, as other fan awards do, so that more forms of fannish activity become Hugo-eligible.

  7. And I would totally argue that running a story through a Voice-Synth and then putting it out for people to listen to would make it a dramatic presentation. Maybe I’m putting too much focus on the ‘Presentation’ part, but if you don’t have to read it, if you can passively enjoy it, it’s a presentation. You can argue dramatic, but you can’t argue presentation.

    I would actually be for adding an Electronic FANAC Hugo of some sort. It would give a logical place for blogs, podcasts, and probably eZines and the like to live. To me, that’s the best solution.
    Chris

    • Cheryl says:

      You are arguing for the same work to be eligible for two different Hugos dependent only on how it is presented to the consumer. That’s never going to get past the Business Meeting.

      And we have been through the whole nonsense of trying to claim that a PDF of a fanzine is somehow not a “real” fanzine and has to have a category of its own. You lost that fight. Stop trying to create a special little category that is reserved for you and a few friends so that it will be easier for you to win awards.

  8. That’s not what I’m saying at all. I would never say that a PDF of a fanzine isn’t a fanzine. If it isn’t, I’ve never done a fanzine!

    I’m just all about definitions. If you look at other awards, Oscars, Emmys, the Wrestling Observer Year-End Awards, they are all very clear with what is and isn’t eligible and they take very clear definitions of what qualifies for a particular category. Definition by delivery method is one of the easiest ways to draw the lines, hence why I said eZines in with Electronic FANAC, though I’d much prefer them in with Best Fanzine if this were the best of all possible worlds, though that would require some serious Administrating to keep that two possible categories thing from happening.

    But still, I can’t think of any way in which a Podcast isn’t a dramatic presentation or that a Podcast IS a fanzine. That would indicate, to me at least, that there’s either a serious gap that a new category could fill (and I like extra categories, personally, though I understand that that’s a minority opinion) and I believe that a Fanzine is something specific (it doesn’t matter if it’s on paper or electronic) but it lives on paper or a screen as writing. I tend to think the same way about Blogs, though I’ll admit they’re closer-related to fanzines as they are written and not a presentation. Except for Vlogs. Another story all together.

    Although, now that you mention it, a Fan Dramatic Presentation category might be awesome. My reading The Drink Tank at a bar could make that list…along with a number of kitty-based YouTube videos!
    Chris

  9. Cheryl says:

    If you are not saying that a PDF of a fanzine isn’t a fanzine, why did you say you wanted to put ezines in a separate category?

    There’s nothing confusing about the fact that fans can podcast their magazines. You are the one who is saying that podcast fanzines should be forced to compete against professionally made TV series. Where’s the sense in that?

    And what would say do if Tony used a speech-to-text converter to put transcripts of Star Ship Sofa episodes online as text? Would that suddenly make it a fanzine?

    You are welcome to try to add an extra category for fannish dramatic presentations, but I doubt that the Business Meeting will go for it. On past performance they are much more likely to rename Fanzine as Fannish Production and have fanzine editors competing against people who run clubs, run conventions and make amateur movies.

  10. Grant Stone says:

    There’s already a text component of StarShipSofa. Printed on actual dead tree, even. Last year StarShipSofa Stories vol. 1 was released, an anthology of stories that had aired on the show. Volume 2 is underway.

    What’s more, transcripts of many early shows are currently being produced, not through text-to-speech but some dedicated volunteers. These were the episodes that provided an excellent overview of the history of the genre and will also be available on paper.

    • Cheryl says:

      Making transcripts of the show content certainly shows there’s no real difference between a podcast and paper, but the rules about publication will now apply. If the material was first published in audio form on Star Ship Sofa it is eligible then. It can’t become eligible again by being transcribed a published as text, either online or in book form. That’s the downside of format neutrality for you.

  11. Grant Stone says:

    Cheryl,
    You’re right. I just mentioned the paper content to highlight the absurdity of it all. After all, I’ve Been reading the award-winning Ansible for years and it’s delivered to me the same way the sofa is: good old HTTP over TCP/IP.

  12. Gary Farber says:

    “As far as I can see, the only sensible way to make the distinction is that a Dramatic Presentation involves lots of other skills. There are actors, cameramen, costume and make-up people, the director and producer. In the dramatic presentation category, those people are being rewarded as well. If someone simply reads a story aloud, that’s still a story, not a dramatic presentation.”

    That’s an entirely reasonable approach, but so far as I know what’s eligible for a Dramatic Presentation Hugo has never been defined in this way. I’m unaware of any declaration by a Business Meeting, or ruling from a Hugo Administrator or Subcommittee that has ever issued such a guideline or relevant declaration. I certainly could have missed one in recent years: are you aware of any?

    Before i started reading the comments I was going to make the exact same comment in response to “If Chris Garcia took to standing up in a bar in San José once a month and talking about his favorite SF movies he could class that as a fanzine (and now I have suggested it of course he’ll do it.)”

    Which is that so far as I am aware, such a performance has always been eligible for a Dramatic Presentation Hugo if the voters nominate it. And having the same thing eligible for two Hugos simultaneously seems to be something that shouldn’t be allowed.

    Phil Foglio and Bob Asprin’s “The Capture” consisted of two people standing at mikes, talking, and one person running a slide projector: that’s not far from one person talking, with no slide projector. (I was in charge of facilities and functions at Lunacon ’76, one of the cons they performed at, so I know precisely what was involved.)

    “If simply being read aloud makes something a ‘dramatic presentation’ then every story that has ever been written becomes eligible as a DP simply by passing it through a text-to-speech conversion. There has to be something more to a DP than that, otherwise the distinction between the forms becomes meaningless.”

    Historically this has been left up to the voters. There have been, over the years, a number of minor pushes for certain kinds of individual performances to be nominated, but while the voters have yet to nominate in such fashion, neither has any such nomination or attempt been excluded or ruled ineligible. The general sense in fandom, judging by the way such nominations have always been discussed over the decades, I would subjectively have to say overwhelmly suggests that the voters feel that what’s eligible as a Dramatic Presentation is up to them.

    Nominating the Prix Victor Hugo Awards Ceremony also suggests a loose and open approach.

    Of course, one could argue that when the language changed to “Any television program or other production,” and “Any theatrical feature or other production,” from the old single “Any production in any medium of dramatized science fiction or fantasy which has been publicly presented for the first time in its present dramatic form during the previous calendar year,” that Business Meeting changed the intent here, but I think that argument would need to be supported with evidence.

    In practice I expect we all agree that any actual nominations ending up actually ruled on by an actual Worldcon will more effectively settle the question than theoretical debate.

    • Of course, one could argue that when the language changed to “Any television program or other production,” and “Any theatrical feature or other production,” from the old single “Any production in any medium of dramatized science fiction or fantasy which has been publicly presented for the first time in its present dramatic form during the previous calendar year,” that Business Meeting changed the intent here, but I think that argument would need to be supported with evidence.

      And indeed, I would say that the evidence points toward the intent of the Business Meeting to be that a dramatized work in any medium is eligible — radio, television, movies, YouTube videos, audio files, live performances, etc. are all eligible. The language in question (television program/theatrical feature) is deliberately meant to suggest the media but not restrict it.

      There are people who would have been much happier with a highly-restrictive technical definition that tied eligibility to medium of release, so that there was one award for “television” and one for “movies” and nothing else at all was eligible. But I was among those who argued against that specifically because the result would have been that the sum of the works eligible for the two halves of the former Dramatic Presentation category would have been smaller than the original category, and that made no sense and would have been a good argument for voting against the original split of the category.

      It seems very clear to me — and I’m one of the people who was deeply involved with the drafting of the wording and with the debates that adopted it — that the legislative intent of the Dramatic Presentation categories is for any dramatized work in any medium to be eligible. The language used is non-restrictive. Medium of release isn’t relevant. The only reason we even went back and put those TV/movie words in there is because there appear to be a lot of people whose minds couldn’t cope with the most-general form of the definition. Indeed, even today, a short theatrical release would still be eligible in Short Form, not Long.

  13. "Orange Mike" Lowrey says:

    Spoken word recordings have always been eligible for the Dramatic Presentation Hugo. (Personally, I’d have nothing against the Sofa taking a Hugo over most of the crap currently on the screen.) My objection is to the total surrender of the last remaining tentative connection between SF fandom and actual literacy. If it isn’t in writing, how is it a “fanzine”?

    FULL DISCLOSURE: I can’t follow most recorded spoken-word material; books-on-tape drive me jittery and eventually make me rush to an off switch before the twitchiness becomes physically debilitating. I can no more follow a podcast than I can sit and listen to a recorded version of favorite books and short stories, or even my beloved wife or daughter reading to me. Even with music, I prefer a printed lyrics sheet such as the late lamented Frank Zappa always provided on his albums. Perhaps this makes me myopic on this issue, and I offer the information for my readers to judge me by; but I honestly don’t believe that that is the issue here.

  14. Spoken word recordings have always been eligible for the Dramatic Presentation Hugo.

    But only if they are dramatic works. Interviews and other non-fiction aren’t dramatic works, and I would argue that they’re not eligible for BDP.

    This is simply the latest round of the medium-trumps-content argument. The previous round said that “fanzines” that were distributed electronically instead of printed on paper and sent through the mail like Ghu intended weren’t really fanzines. Before that, there were the people who claimed that Xeroxed ‘zines shouldn’t count, only proper mimeographed publications. And so on.

  15. Gary Farber says:

    “Before that, there were the people who claimed that Xeroxed ‘zines shouldn’t count, only proper mimeographed publications.”

    I haven’t encountered this, and am very curious to see who might have written this, when, and where. Could you perhaps please mention two or three specific examples of such people and where we might find those claims, Kevin? Thanks awfully if you would!

    Orange Mike: “If it isn’t in writing, how is it a ‘fanzine’?”

    Fans have done fanzines that were all (except for colophon and credits) art.

    • No, I can’t quote specifics becuase it’s been too long and because I’m too young — I’m “only” 44 years old. I just know that I recall a feeling of disdain given off by people who had been there in the Good Old Days when Fen were Men and Real Fanzines Were Printed on Twilltone. Similarly, there were the people even before that who said that if you were offset-print, you shouldn’t count as a “real” fanzine.

    • Cheryl says:

      I can’t speak for SF fandom because I wasn’t involved in it then, but I was involved in gaming fanzines at the time that photocopying first became popular and as I recall there was a considerable fuss at the time.

  16. Gary Farber says:

    Kevin, I’m quite familiar with the attitudes of fanzine fan of every era (until recently), and the attitudes of practically all the specific fanzine fans of the past, about such issues, and while plenty of old fen will talk about their fondness for twilltone, and certainly there have always been aesthetic discussions about people’s preferences in art, ink, colors, paper, layout, number of staples, etc., I’m unaware of *anyone* ever proposing that zines not be eligible for the Hugo on the basis of any such details of production.

    I’m specifically unaware of any attempt, or proposal, or debate, made at any Worldcon, or in any fanzine, or seriously in any medium of fandom, that the Hugo Rules should be interpreted or changed to exclude Xeroxed fanzines.

    I suggest that you’re conflating aesthetic opinions like “I like the warmth of mimeo,” or whathaveyou, with actual attempts at rules-making or changing, which is what I thought was the topic of discussion, rather than other people’s aesthetic preferences.

    “…but I was involved in gaming fanzines at the time that photocopying first became popular and as I recall there was a considerable fuss at the time.”

    Respectfully, Cheryl, this doesn’t help the claim that anyone ever asserted that Xeroxed sf fanzines shouldn’t be eligible for the Hugo. I’m rather inclined, absent examples to demonstrate that my memory is failing, to take this as a claim made in error. If anyone has examples, on the other hand, I’m perfectly prepared to believe I’ve forgotten some such debate.

    • The issue I’m raising is that people are asserting that presenting the work in a new medium isn’t a “real fanzine.” It’s not a new complaint, simply a repeat of one that’s happened before, with other things filling in the blanks.

      In the case in question now, the rules have already been clarified to include electronic media and other non-traditional forms. That amendment isn’t pending — it was ratified last year. Anyone wanting to change it needs to start planning to introduce a scope-narrowing amendment. Complaining that new media aren’t legitimate simply sounds to me to be the same as the complains about e-distribution or newer methods of reproduction.

      If the voters nominate such works, your complaint is mainly with the voters’ tastes.

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