Legal Complications

My thanks to everyone who welcomed the ideas Kevin and I had for reforming Hugo Award administration. However, I regret to say that I no longer believe that solution is possible. Here’s why.

As I explained yesterday, individual Worldcons are incorporated. They have to be, because they as subject to enormous legal risks. But WSFS, famously, is not incorporated. If we were to create an Independent Hugo Award Administration Committee as part of WSFS, that would also not be incorporated. Anyone who was unhappy with the results of the Hugos in a particular year could then sue the members of that committee for damages. No one would serve on such a committee under such circumstances.

There are technical ways around this, but they’d require a lot more wording in the original motion. In particular there is an organisation called WorldCon Intellectual Property Inc. (WIP) that exists to own the WSFS service marks. That could be re-puposed to own the IHAAC. Ironically, WIP was created out of the ashes of the corporation that Kevin and I created to run the SF&F Translation Awards, so it was originally an award organisation. But the creation of WIP was hugely controversial within WSFS, with many people seeing it as creeping incorporation. And of course there are plenty of people within fandom who think it is wrong for WSFS to own the Hugo marks at all.

So we could re-craft the motion so that the IHAAC reports directly to WIP, and its members are therefore protected by WIP’s corporate shield. However, that would leave little for WSFS to actually do. It is incorporation by another name, and it would make much more sense to simply transform WIP into WSFS Inc.. And that, I’m afraid, will not fly.

I may be wrong, but my sense is that there are still way too many people within fandom, and in particular amongst those who run Worldcons, who will fight to their dying breath to oppose incorporation of WSFS. Indeed, I suspect that some old-time fans will be trying to rise from their graves to come and vote against it.

At this point I think WSFS is dead in the water. It can’t enforce its own constitution, and the social contract by which Worldcons agreed to adhere to the Constitution anyway has been broken. The only possible remedy is anathema to too many people in fandom. I’m not sure we can get out of this.

How Did We Get Here?

One of the more common questions I’m getting asked on social media is why WSFS is not incorporated, and why is there so much resistance to it being so. I’m not really the right person to answer that, because I only started going to Worldcons in 1995. The fannish war over incorporartion had been going on for some time by then and was deemed mostly settled against the idea, but I will give it a go.

In 1995, incorporation was clearly still a hot potato. Most people back then thought that the Business Meeting was a load of boring nonsense, but the one thing I was told was guaranteed to get everyone out of the program sessions and into the BM to vote was a cry of, “WSFS Inc.! To the Barricades!!!”

So why exactly does Worldcon fandom have this horror of incorporation? It has become clear to me over the years that many people involved in running Worldcons despise WSFS and would be much happier if it went away. Part of that is sheer selfishness. Once they have got control over the shiny toy for a year they want to be able to run it however they want, not be constained by some stupid old constitution. But there is also a very real fear among con-runners of mechanisms that might come back to bite them.

Worldcon is a massive undertaking staffed entirely by volunteers. It is questionable as to why anyone would take on such a responsibility if they thought that there could be serious consequences for them if they got it wrong. Worldcons routinely take out insurance against being sued for various reasons, but having legal obligations to WSFS would be harder to avoid.

(Updating this because a couple of people read it in a way I didn’t intend. Individual Worldcons incorporate. They have to, and they have to do so under the laws of their host country. What Worldcons do not want is for WSFS to incorporate. Nor do they want to have to sign legal agreements with WSFS in exchange for the right to run Worldcon.)

Some of the responses to my suggestion for fixing the Hugos also cast light on the issue. Some people have responded that the Mark Protection Committee is the wrong body to take on the responsibility because the current members are all incompetent arseholes. Well, that’s an opinion, but that’s why I suggested that people might want to amend the motion to have them all stood down and new elections take place.

Heather Rose Jones has made some very good points about the dangers of having such a body, and she’s dead right. There are ways in which it could go bad. Democracy only works if we are constantly vigilant and prevent it being subverted.

But then there are people who say that it can never work because the wrong people will always get elected. That’s much more of a Libertarian viewpoint: all government is bad, because anyone who gets to be in government is bad.

That brings us back to the early years of Worldcon, and a time when many of the attendees were hard core Heinlein fans. Resistance to incorporation is, I think, at least in part driven by the idea that risking an occasional individual Worldcon going rogue is far preferable to creating an official body that might itself go rogue and then could not be stopped. If you agree with that assessment then you too should be against any proposal that creates an oversight body.

Up until now, of course, it has worked. Worldcons have mostly done the right things and followed the rules, even though they could not be forced to do so. Chengdu has changed all that. And I note that, when Kevin and I explain that there’s nothing that Glasgow can do about it under the Constitution, a common reaction is that they should just do it anyway. Going rogue can be infectious.

Decoupling the Hugos

In amongst all of the discussion as to what to do about the Chengdu Hugo issue has been one suggestion that can actually be implemented, albeit over a number of years. That is decoupling Hugo Award Administration from the host Worldcon, so that the laws of the host country cannot interfere with the voting process.

I explained my ideas to Kevin, and he kindly drafted a resolution that could be put before the Business Meeting in Glasgow. You can see that here, but it is long and legalistic so I’ll describe the basic idea. (If you want a DOCX or RTF version, ask me.)

WSFS already has an organization called the Mark Protection Committee (MPC), which is responsible for maintaining the service marks that WSFS owns (in particular “Hugo Award” and the logo). I suggest renaming this the Independent Hugo Award Administration Committee (IHAAC) and giving it, rather than Worldcon, the job of administering the voting process. The IHAAC would recruit experienced administrators in much the same way that Worldcon does, but there would be a lot more consistency from year to year.

Worldcon would still have the option of staging a Hugo Award ceremony, and creating a distinctive trophy base, but equally it could decline to do that and pass the job back to the IHAAC.

Kevin and I cannot take this proposal forward ourselves. Kevin is a member of the MPC, and I effectively work for them in maintaining the WSFS websites, so we both have a vested interest. Our involvement could easily be portrayed as a power grab. But we are happy to provide help and advice to anyone who does want to take this forward at Glasgow.

It would also benefit from input from people who have good experience of Worldcon budgets. I don’t know how much running Hugo Administration costs, and the IHAAC would need a share of WSFS membership fees to cover that. Some of that should probably be paid well in advance, just in case the Worldcon later goes bankrupt. Input from people who understand international data sharing laws would also be useful.

There are also changes that might be needed to ensure broad support for the idea. For example, people might want the current MPC members to resign and stand for re-election because their role has changed. They might want IHAAC members to be elected by online ballot of the WSFS membership rather than at the Business Meeting. It might be easier for Worldcons if the IHAAC administered Site Selection as well, and so on. The current motion represents what we think are the minimum number of changes required.

Neither Kevin nor I are wedded to any particular version of this. We are simply putting it out there to help people get started on a change that at least some people appear to want.

Of course there will also be people who think that this will inevitably lead to WSFS being incorporated and having a board of directors. That is entirely possible, and I expect such people to oppose any change of this type. But I also think it is incumbent upon them to propose a better idea, or to explain to fandom why the current chaos is preferable to WSFS Inc..

A Better Analogy for Worldcon

The social media drama about this year’s Hugos continues unabated. Kevin and I are still getting a fair amount of pushback to our attempts explain what can and can’t be done. A lot of this falls into two camps. Firstly there are the people who assume that we must be lying and are probably part of the conspiracy. And then there are people who quote bits of the WSFS Constitution at us as if this was some massive gotcha because of course we can’t possibly understand it ourselves. Neither of these groups are worth engaging with.

However, there are people who are prepared to listen. And one (thank you, Joseph), led me to what I think is a better explanation of how WSFS and Worldcon work.

Traditionally, people have compared Worldcon to the Olympics. Cities bid for the right to hold it. When one wins a bid, the local organising committee is largely responsible for running the event. But this analogy has two flaws. Firstly the International Olympic Committee actually exists. And secondly, they do have some limited power over how each year’s Olympics are run. In contrast, the “Hugo Board” does not exist, and no one has any power over a seated Worldcon.

A better analogy, I think, is that of a parliamentary election. We, the people (i.e. WSFS members), vote for a party to govern us. Once that party is elected, it may or may not do what is promised to do during the election. And it may do things that we definitely didn’t want it to. But, short of taking to the streets and protesting, there is little that we, as electors can do.

Of course a functioning democracy should have checks and balances on the power of the government. There might be a separately organised upper chamber, or a head of state, or a supreme court, or any combination of these. There may also be a written constitution. The only one of these that WSFS has is the constitution. But if the government acts against the constitution, what can be done? Typically you go to another branch of government to rein them in. However, WSFS does not have any other branch of government. In practical terms, the only thing preventing a Worldcon committee from acting against the WSFS Constitution is the shame that will befall them if they do so.

As we are seeing in real democracies, shame is no longer an effective check on elective dictatorship. The UK is a good example. The King is effectively powerless. The House of Lords is being subverted by the Tories by the simple expedient of given lots of their corrupt buddies peerages. (This is helped by their rapid turnover of Prime Ministers, as each one gets to have a Resignation Honours List.) As for the Supreme Court, when they tried to rein in Boris Johnson, he and his allies in the media branded them “enemies of the people”. The current big issue in Parliament is the government ramming through laws that say that the UK has the power to ignore international law, specifically over the policy of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda. Rishi Sunak insists that he is doing this to protect “the will of the people”, despite opinon polls consistently showing that the people actually oppose this policy.

The Tories, at least, do have to worry about the next election. But Worldcon is an exhausting thing to run, and usually no one fan group will bid more than once every 10 years. By that time there will probably have been substantial turnover in the people involved, and fannish memories are short.

That, I’m afraid, is where we are with WSFS. Once seated, a Worldcon can pretty much do whatever it wants. There is no effective sanction on its behaviour. It is possible, and that is a separate discussion, that Chengdu had very good reasons to do at least some of what they did. But now that they have shown an apparent willingness to flout the Hugo rules, I expect future Worldcons to feel empowered to do so with no reason other than that they want to. I am, I hope obviously, very unhappy about this.

Outrage Season

We have finally got the nomination statistics for the 2023 Hugos, and understandably there is a great deal of concern being expressed. Some very strange things have gone on. Believe me, I’m not happy either.

Fairly inevitably there are plenty of people who know little about how WSFS works who assume that there must be some overriding authority who could, and should, have prevented Chengdu from doing what they have done. Kevin and I try to explain, but often we are met with incredulity because it seems crazy that any organisation would work that way. I’m not happy about how WSFS works either.

What does confuse me, however, is the way that people assume utter idiocy by those involved as the only explanation. For example, Kevin and I have been beset by demands that it is our duty to find out what happened. Do people really think that we don’t want to know? And haven’t asked? I guess they do.

Stupidity is also being ascribed to the Chengdu committee. If I wanted to fix the results of the Hugos, there are two ways I would go about it. The first is that I would put out an entirely falsified set of nomination statistics. After all, the ballots will have been destroyed by now. How would anyone know that they were false?

The other option is to simply not issue the nomination statistics at all. Sure, they are supposed to, but there is no effective comeback if you don’t do it, and the outrage at them not doing so is likely to be far less than what is happening right now.

Instead they have chosen to put out a set of nomination statistics that makes it very clear that shenanigans have taken place. Maybe we should be thinking about why they did that.

The Saturday Panel Lives

After some hard work by the programming team, the “What Do We Look for in a Fanzine?” panel has been re-constituted as a fully-online event. It will be in Harris at 10:00am EST (15:00 UK). The description for it is as follows:

Everyone on this panel writes fanzines. What that means has changed over the years, but they are all passionate about them. The panel will talk about what excites them, what delights them, and what makes them nominate something for a Hugo.

The panelists are: Erin Underwood, Guy Herbert Lillian, Jaroslav Olša, Jr., Joe Sherry and Sarah Gulde; and the moderator is me.

Tune in tomorrow.

Into The Sun

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.

Cheryl’s Laws of Fandom

Every year, without fail, the announcement of the Hugo finalists is followed by outrage from various corners of fandom who think that there is something fundamentally wrong with the Awards, and the process, and the “Hugo Committee” who allegedly make all of the decisions. One of the most common complaints is that the finalists are once again The Usual Suspects.

Quite often they are, of course. People like NK Jemisin, Martha Wells, John Scalzi and Mary Robinette Kowal are very popular, and justifiably so. In other cases the charge is less justified. I saw Cora Buhlert defending herself on Twitter against a charge of being one of The Usual Suspects by pointing out that this is only her second nomination. Fan Writer has been won by a different person for each of the last 13 years, and none of this year’s finalists have ever won. Before that it was won by Dave Langford for 18 years on the trot (1989-2007). That’s quite a change.

Of course there are legitimate concerns. While other parts of the ballot have begun to show pleasing diversty, the fan categories have remained largely white, which does suggest that the voters are not casting their nets very widely. It is something that we should look to change.

But Cora also linked to a thread by Seanan McGuire in which Seanan noted that she got her first nomination in 2010, and in 2011 was immediately attacked as one of The Usual Suspects. At which point is occured to me that this was a form of Cheryl’s Second Law of Fandom in action.

Cheryl’s what? Well, back in 2008 I took a stab at explaining fannish outrage by channelling Isaac Asimov. My Three Laws of Fandom weren’t exactly intended to be taken seriously, but they do represent the odd ways in which fannish discourse tends to happen. Indeed, the advent of social media has made them all the more obvious. So I thought it was about time I re-posted them for the youngsters to see. Here they are:

  1. Never accept accident or incompetence as an explanation when a bizarre and complex conspiracy can also be advanced to explain the known facts.
  2. One data point indicates a dangerous trend that must be resisted; two data points indicate a sacred and holy tradition that must be preserved.
  3. If a tree falls in Central Park, New York, is seen to fall by 100 New Yorkers, is captured on film by CNN and the video of the fall is broadcast around the world, but I wasn’t there to see it, then it didn’t fall.

The thing with Hugo nominations is a sort of Reverse Second Law, in that you are new with one nomination, but one of The Usual Suspects with two.

Why Worldcons Go Wrong

There are lots of people on social media currently saying things like, “Worldcon is broken, it must be fixed” or “Worldcon is irredeemably broken, we must replace it with something new.” These are all entirely understandable sentiments, but in order to fix Worldcon, or to build a replacement, it helps to know how and why it goes wrong. In this post I want to talk about a couple of specific examples from CoNZealand.

I should start by noting that much of the problem here stems from the fact that fans all over the world, even if they have Worldcon memberships, have no sense of ownership of WSFS or the convention. They see WSFS as a nebulous “Them” rather than as “Us”. And if something goes wrong, “They” must be at fault. But who exactly “They” are, and what “They” could they have done better, is unclear.

In one sense it is absolutely true that the buck stops at the top. When you agree to chair a Worldcon you know this. There is a reason why “Friends Don’t Let Friend’s Run Worldcon” is a common fannish saying. So Kelly Buehler and Norm Cates have been spending a lot of time taking it on the chin and accepting responsibility. Sometimes they did indeed do things wrong, but knowing what to do right is not always easy.

Take the George Martin situation, for example. CoNZealand was selected as a site in 2018, and George was announced as Toastmaster at that time. The Game of Thrones TV series was hugely popular then, and George had a stellar reputation among Worldcon regulars because, unlike many famous authors, he always attended the convention, and put a lot of his own money into it. His work establishing alternative awards, The Alfies, in the midst of the Sad Puppy affair was widely praised. Few people thought CoNZealand’s choice was a mistake at the time.

Warning signs started to appear last year with the fiasco around Hugo Finalists being barred from the Hugo Losers’ Party because it was full, and being asked to stand out in the rain until there was room. George has done most of the work funding and organising these parties since the Puppy affair, and his response to what happened in Dublin was very disappointing.

There may well have been additional warning signs in the months that followed. I’m not privy to the internal discussions of the CoNZealand committee so I don’t know. So there may have been multiple points at which CoNZealand might have been tempted to disinvite George. I would certainly have considered pushing back on Robert Silverberg having any involvement in the Hugo Ceremony.

But what would have happened if they did push back? George might well have been very angry. He might have withdrawn from the convention entirely, which might have resulted in a number of people demanding membership refunds. He might have gone to the newspapers, which would have resulted in the convention being dragged through the mud all over the world. And George’s legion of fans would certainly have waged war against the convention on social media.

If you want an example of how much damage an author with a very high profile can do, take a look at what another successful fantasy author is currently doing to the trans community in the UK.

So as a con committee, what do you do if one of your Guests of Honour turns out to be a problem? If, like George, he is very high profile, you will probably keep him and hope that he won’t do anything too awful. And, if he does, that your staff can keep things under control. That’s easier said than done.

Yesterday Mary Robinette Kowal wrote a Twitter thread about her own part in the Hugo Ceremony. She’s President of SFWA, and the winner of last year’s Best Novel Hugo, so she’s not without power and prestige in the industry. She’d been asked to present the Best Novella category. This was all pre-recorded, and Mary says she’d noticed from the way George introduced her that something was up. In particular he had expanded SFWA as “The Science Fiction Writers of America” rather than “The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America”. That might have been a genuine mistake, but it is also a common Old Guard dog whistle. (There’s a whole complicated reason why SFWA is not called SFFWA). She says that she could have asked George to re-do the intro, but she didn’t want to seem difficult.

The point here is that if the President of SFWA didn’t feel confident enough to tell George he was getting it wrong, what chance did younger writers, or volunteers on the CoNZealand committee have? If I might be permitted a Railroad joke, there’s a train in motion here and it is very hard to stop. From a convention management point of view, the only thing you can do is to trust that your high profile Toastmaster does not behave too badly. In CoNZealand’s case that trust was badly betrayed.

The other issue I would like to look at is the case of panellist Edmund Schluessel who was twice asked to change his Zoom background because it was deemed “too political”. The full story, complete with an image of said background, is available on File 770 here (item 3) and here.

The first time this happened, Kelly Buehler issued an apology on behalf of the committee. She stated: “There is nothing wrong with your Zoom background, and I encourage you to use it as much as you like.” However, the staff member who had tried to censor Schluessel’s background resigned in protest. And the next time Schluessel was on panel he was once again asked to remove his background, for the same reason as before, but by a different person.

Clearly some of the ConZealand staff have gone rogue here, including ignoring a direct instruction from one of the Co-Chairs. There’s little that the convention can do at this point. All Worldcon staff are volunteers. You can’t discipline them in any effective way. If you fire someone you may find yourself with a major gap in your team, and the person that you fire may take several of his friends away with him. Possibly it was a mistake to recruit this person in the first place, but Worldcons are often desperate for staff and have little chance to vet people at lower levels.

There’s a tendency in certain quarters to sneer when people say that running Worldcon is hard, but it is, and unless you have actually done it you probably don’t understand just how hard it is. Which is not to say that people don’t make terrible mistakes, and should not be called to account for them. I can assure you that I have done that often enough in my time (ask people about TorCon 3 if you don’t believe me). However, I have always tried to do so in the hope that we can learn from our mistakes and make Worldcon better. I hope you can see from the above that fixing things, or creating an alternative, is not simply a matter of vowing to “do better”.

New Salon Futura

Here we go again. The new issue of Salon Futura went live on Wednesday night. Here’s what I have on review:

  • The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again by M John Harrison
  • Mordew by Alex Pheby
  • The Empress of Salt and Fortune by from Nghi Vo
  • Scarlet Odyssey by CT Rwizi
  • Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders by Aliette de Bodard
  • Exhalation by Ted Chiang
  • Season one of Doom Patrol

I have also written a length article about how WSFS might change to become more responsive to fans, and to help fans feel more part of the organisation. It seems to have been well-received thus far, but writing means nothing if it isn’t followed up by action.

CoNZealand Fringe – Day 1

Fringe is underway as well. We don’t quite have 24-hour programming, but there is now something for people in Europe to watch. And you can too. Claire Rousseau has created a YouTube playlist of the panels we have had thus far. You can find it here.

I only had time to watch the Modern Fanzines panel, which I thought was excellent. Here it is.

By the way, links for watching future panels are not all available yet. They will go up in good time.

Hugo Eligibility Post

It is that time of year again, so what have I been up to in 2019?.

Firstly I have published two Short Stories. They are:

Secondly, as I have now published four issues, Salon Futura is eligible in Fanzine.

Thirdly, as I write most of Salon Futura myself, I am eligible in Fan Writer.

For those just catching up on all this, the main reason why I am tossing my hat into the fan awards ring again, despite having plenty of shiny rockets to keep me company, is that interest in the Fanzine category has been waning of late. I’m hoping to boost participation. If you have a fanzine and want people to nominate it, let me know and I will signal boost for you.

(This post was updated on Dec. 9th to add the second short story.)

Lunch With Scott

One of the highlights of Worldcon for me this year was being interviewed by Scott Edelman for his podcast, Eating the Fantastic. Obviously having a long chat with Scott was fun, but the unique selling point of the podcast is that the interviews always take place over a lengthy and very good meal. The food that we had at Mr. Fox in Dublin was superb. So my heartfelt thanks to Scott and everyone who helps fund the podcast for paying for that.

The interview is now available online. You can find it on Scott’s blog, and doubtless on various podcast apps as well. It is more than 2 hours long, but hopefully there are ways you can take it in a bit at a time.

I’ve listened through the whole thing. There’s only one issue that I want to come back to right now, and that’s because it became the subject of a Twitter storm soon after Worldcon. In the interview I talk about the need for Worldcon to put more content online. Obviously there are issues with this, but there are many different ways in which it could be done, some of which address those issues. Sadly Twitter discussions tend to polarise very rapidly, with people assuming the absolute worst possible of any idea they attack. I do plan to write more about this issue in Salon Futura. Please wait for that before jumping in and telling me what an awful misogynist I am.

Whither Fanzine?

This year’s Hugo Administrator, Nicholas Whyte, has written a lengthy blog post looking at some of the interesting features of this year’s voting. The thing that sticks out to me most obviously from the post is his comments on the Fanzine category.

The lack of enthusiasm for Best Fanzine is notable. We were surprisingly close to not giving a Best Fanzine award in both 2019 Hugos and 1944 Retro Hugos this year. The total first preference votes for Best Fanzine finalists other than No Award in both cases was 26.9% of the total number of votes cast overall (833/3097 and 224/834).

The threshold is 25%, so with 59 fewer votes for 2019 or 16 fewer votes for 1944 we would have had to No Award the category. Best Fanzine was also the category with the best percentage for No Award in the final runoff for both 2019 and 1944. (84.4% in 2019, 81.7% in 1944.)

On Twitter Aidan Moher has been calling for more appreciation for video fanzines. (Booktube appears to be the name for such things.) People making them certainly deserve recognition, but they belong in the Fancast category which is for:

Any generally available non-professional audio or video periodical devoted to science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects

Aidan also suggests collapsing Fanzine and Fancast to create a single category of fan-created works. Much as I would like to see fewer Hugo categories, I can’t see that happening. Neither the podcast people nor fanzine fandom would be happy.

There is, of course, also the question of what we are judging. Abi Brady mischieviously suggested that we also collapse Best Novel and BDP: Long Form, which makes the point very neatly. The trouble is that on the Internet it is very easy to mix media. Most “newspapers” already include video and podcasts in their websites. When I started Salon Futura I deliberately set out to include all three formats: text, audio and video.

But that doesn’t solve the problem. What shall we do about Poor Little Fanzine? Well for starters you should all be nominating Rachel Cordasco’s magnificent Speculative Fiction in Translation. Hopefully we can also get a lot of folks doing fanzine reviews between now and the next nominating deadline. And finally, Salon Futura is still a thing. It is no longer semi-pro because I can’t afford to pay people. The website desperately needs a re-vamp. If I were to put all my book reviews and con reports on there, and maybe give it some sort of issue structure, it would most definitely be a fanzine. And then you would all have to rush around finding other fanzines to vote for, because no one wants me winning any more Hugos, do they?

(And yes, it would still include audio. You can’t expect me to pass up the chance to mess with the category police.)

The WSFS Agenda

With Worldcon almost upon us, it is time once more to descend into that pit of despair, the WSFS Business Meeting. What delights of Parliamentary Procedure are in store for us this year?

The Agenda for this year’s Business Meetin is available here. There doesn’t seem to be anything urgent to debate on Friday. The days when it was necessary to pack the Friday meeting to prevent conservative fans from squashing important motions with Objection to Consideration motions seem to be finally over. Besides, there’s nothing I’m desperate to see get discussed.

Much of the main business, which will be debated on Saturday morning, is either ratification of items passed in San José, or clean-up of the Constitution. The Nit-Picking & Fly-Specking Committee has been doing its usual fine job of spotting side effects of new regulations and quietly proposing simple ways of bringing everything into line. However, there are a couple of new proposals that will doubtless spark debate.

Motion D1: Clarification of Worldcon Powers, is a NP&FS Motion, but it is one that is personally important to me. What it does it make it clear than an individual Worldcon has no power over the Hugo Awards from previous years, administered by other Worldcons. For years after I won my first Hugo, people were saying that an “error” had been made, and that the award should be rescinded because I should never have been allowed on the ballot in the first place. I don’t want this to happen to other people.

Motion D7: Five and Five, would remove the system of having 6 finalists each year. This was put in place as one of the anti-Puppy measures. Those who study the voting figures claim that is has very little effect, and the EPH system is sufficient protection going forward. But why remove it? I have heard people saying that it is just to make life easier for Hugo Administrators. I don’t think that’s the argument being made. The main issues are the amount of reading that has to be done by voters, and the size of the pre-Hugo reception. In practice 6 finalists isn’t a huge problem for voters except in categories that involve novels. But with the Lodestar we have two novel categories, and we have Series which is a nightmare for voters to judge fairly. So there’s something of a point there. As to the reception, this has always been a nightmare for Worldcons, both in terms of the expense and finding a suitable venue that is both large enough and close enough to the auditorium. That nightmare will have been getting steadily worse as we have added more categories. I can quite see why those who run the event hate the 6 Finalists rule.

Motion D9: Non-transferability of Voting Rights, is one that I think will divide the meeting. I can see merits both ways. Personally I am generally in favour of anything that strengthens the bond between the member and WSFS. People buying a membership of Worldcon tend to see themselves as members of that Worldcon, not members of WSFS, when in fact they are both. Obviously there will be old time fans who will see this as creeping corporatisation of WSFS, but I think the time when a cry of, “To the Barricades! No WSFS Inc!!!”, could pack the meeting are long gone. Where I think this motion will attract opposition is from people who see it as taking away their right to re-sell their voting rights, which it does. But as long as membership of WSFS is relatively cheap I don’t have a problem with that. It will enlarge the voter pool, which is a good thing.

There may be some very convoluted arguments about whether Supporting Memberships and WSFS Memberships are, or should be, the same thing. It is complicated.

Motion D11: Clear Up the Definition of Public in the Artist Categories Forever, is all very well in theory, but is certainly not going to achieve what it says on the tin. There are always going to be new wrinkles in definitions as long as the pro/fan distinction exists. All we can hope for is that this reduces the number of issues. I have no idea whether it will.

Motion D12: Best Translated Novel, is one I’d like to speak to if I am still at the meeting (I have a 12:00 appointment elsewhere). No one I know in the translation community is in favor of this. Neil Clarke has laid into it here. Knowing how much the WSFS community hates the idea of a work being eligible in more than one Hugo category, I fully expect there to be an amendment to this proposal that would also bar translated novels from the Novel category, and possibly Series and the Lodestar as well. Even if such an amendment doesn’t get through, I think that the existence of this category will encourage people to think that translated works are not eligible for any other Hugo category. It is hard enough now to persuade people that they are eligible, even though they always have been. We don’t want to be stuck in a ghetto, so please don’t pass this.

Motion D13: Best Game or Interactive Experience, is something I think will have to happen at some stage in some form. I’m not a sufficient expert on the game industry to tell whether this is a good solution or not. Given that the last trial of a game category was 13 years ago, I’d like to see a trial category run before we make anything like this permanent.

London Bound

In a week and a bit’s time I will be in London for a couple of decidedly Queer events.

On Saturday 17th I will be at the Fringe! Queer Film Festival for a showing of TransGeek, a documentary film about trans people who also happen to be geeks. I’m one of the people interviewed in the film. Roz Kaveney and I will be on hand to answer questions afterwards, as will the film’s Director, Kevin McCarthy.

On Sunday 18th I will be at the National Maritime Museum as part of their Lost in a Book literary festival. Roz and I, together with Sacha Coward from the NMM, will be hosting a discussion on Queer Futurism. As the blurb says: “This is an informal chance to talk about LGBTQ+ representations in science fiction and fantasy. We want to imagine what a queer-inclusive future might look like.”

If you happen to be in the area and fancy popping along to either of these, I would love to see you.

Chairman Standlee Speaks – Naming the WSFS YA Award

As many of you will know, Kevin will be chairing the WSFS Business Meeting at Worldcon in Helsinki this year. One of the items that will come up is the naming of the proposed YA Award. Last year a motion to create the award was given first passage, and will therefore be up for ratification this year. At the time the name of the award was left blank to allow for consultation with fandom. This year’s Business Meeting will have to decide how to deal with that; in particular it will have to decide whether it is OK to just add a name without going through the whole two-year approval process.

The chances are that whatever Kevin rules there will be a challenge to his ruling. I say that because a) the whole question is quite complicated (Ben Yalow has his own view on how the Constitution should be interpreted), and b) those opposed to having a YA Award will doubtless use every excuse available to disrupt things because that’s the way politics works. However, so that the meeting can proceed as smoothly as possible without need for lengthy explanations, Kevin has set out his reasoning for how he will rule on his LiveJournal. If you have any questions, you can ask them there.

GUFF Deadline Approaches

I’ve not had a lot of time to think about things like fan funds of late, but I did get a few hours off last weekend and I used some of that to catch up on episodes of Galactic Suburbia. This reminded me that there is a GUFF race in progress, and that I’m actually a nominator for one of the candidates. Originally I agreed to nominated Alisa Krasnostein and Alex Pierce, but Alisa has made the difficult decision to drop out because of the current insanity regarding international travel. If I had two very young kids I’d have made the same decision. Alex, however, is still running, and you have until April 17th to vote for her. There are other candidates as well, of course, but I’m a loyal nominator and want to support my candidate. Alex is awesome, vote for her.

Full details as to how to vote can be found here. See you in Helsinki, Alex.

We Have Hugo Finalists

Those of you who have not been following social media all afternoon may not yet have spotted the Hugo Award Finalist list. You can find it on Locus.

All in all it seems a very good list with many categories that are going to be hotly contested and very few Puppies. The list for Best Series looks very strong, which bodes well for the category in the future.

I am particularly delighted to see Ninni Aalto get a nod for Best Fan Artist. As far as I can see she’s the only Finn on the ballot. Please vote for her. Of course having only one Finn, and only one translated work, on the ballot is not a good result for a Worldcon in a non-English-speaking country. (Edit: sorry, two Finns; Vesa Lehtimäki is the other one.)

It is criminal that Lee Harris hasn’t got on the ballot. Hopefully he’s been cheered up by getting four of the six Novella slots for Tor.com publications.

There are two openly trans people on the Best Novel ballot, which is frankly amazing.

Thankfully I have read a lot of the nominees, because I don’t have much reading time now with the Tiptree stuff coming in. There are some on there I am very much looking forward to reading.

And that’s all I can think of headline-wise for now. Except for one thing. Why, Cheryl, you might be asking, did you point people at the Locus website for the list of finalists? Why not point them to the official Hugo Awards site which, you know, you actually maintain? Well, that’s because the Helsinki Hugo Admin team, in their wisdom, decided not to let the official Hugo Award website have any sight of the results. They didn’t even send us the press release after the awards were announced. It takes a while to format a web post from that data, and Kevin has only just had a chance to check what I’ve done. I’m going to go and put that live now.

Normally I’d put such things down to incompetence, but Kevin had been trying to get sight of the information for some time because he’s normally very busy at work during the time the announcement was made. Given that, I can only put this down to spite. Here’s hoping we have better luck trying to get the live coverage of the award ceremony done.

Update: Had a lovely email from Jukka. One of the frustrations of being a Worldcon chair is that the organization is way too big for you to know what goes on. You can have all of the good intentions in the world, and then someone at a lower level decides that they know better. I’ve seen this first hand watching Kevin do the job. It is doubtless harder with a multi-national team. Anyway, I feel a lot more confident about the ceremony coverage now.