Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should

I am seeing an increasing number of people of late suggesting loopholes in the Hugo Award rules whereby things that you would not expect to be eligible in a category could be argued as being eligible. Typically this involves work that ought to belong in one of the more competitive categories being moved into one that is seen as a soft option. The most obvious examples are getting professional work nominated in the fan categories, and getting anything into Related Work.

Now obviously there are reasons why such things might be legitimate. It is OK for a professional writer or artist to do fan work as well. It is quite another to suggest nominated work that was clearly well paid as fan work. Equally Related Work is a catch-all category for work that can’t be nominated anywhere else, but that doesn’t mean that things that clearly do belong somewhere else should be moved to Related Work.

There are a number of reasons why this sort of thing is bad. Firstly, it discredits the awards, because it makes it look like the way to win is to exploit the rules, rather than produce good work. Of course there are people who think that discrediting the Hugos is a fine and upstanding moral cause, but thankfully they are more noise than anything else.

Reason two is that is can make problems with the rules harder to fix. If a category definition is unclear then it is normally sufficient to ask the Business Meeting to pass an amendment clarifying the situation. That will probably go through on the nod. It still takes two years, but it is uncontroversial. However, if someone has taken advantage of that lack of clarity and gotten nominated because of it, fixing the problem will be much harder. Everyone who is a fan or friend of the person who got nominated, and everyone who hopes to follow in their footsteps, will immediately yell UNFAIR! It will be seen that a possible route to nomination is being taken away. All fandom will be plunged into angry exchanges on social media.

Interestingly this is an example where Cheryl’s Second Law is not crazy enough. The Second Law states that something has to happen twice for something to become a sacred and holy tradition of fandom that must be defended. With the Hugos, nomination need only happen once to become sacred.

Finally, encouraging people to nominate works in line with a perceived loophole can cause people to waste nominations, and thereby cause works to miss getting on the final ballot. To understand why that is, you have to look at the rules for moving nominations between categories.

It is not the job of the Hugo Administrators to look for reasons to disqualify nominations. Normally they will bend over backwards to try to accommodate the voters’ wishes. That includes fixing obvious mistakes.

For example, suppose you mistakenly think that a work must be a novel because it was published as a book, not in a magazine, but it fact by length it is only a novelette. The Administrator will remove that work from your list of nominated novels. But, as you clearly liked the work, they will look to move the nomination to the correct category. However, there is a firm rule that you cannot nominate more than five works in any one category. If you had less than five works in Novelette, then the work you wrongly put in Novel can be moved. But if you have filled the Novelette ballot then the incorrect nomination is wasted.

This is why it can be very dangerous to try to exploit loopholes. To take another common example that I have seen touted for this year, it may seem from last year’s odd ruling about “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” that audiobooks are eligible in both fiction and dramatic presentation categories, but you have no guarantee that this year’s Administrator will follow that ruling. If you fill up your BDP: Short Form nominations with stories you have also nominated in fiction categories, and it is ruled that audiobooks can only be eligible in one category at a time, then you will have wasted five nominations.

In the later case, your nominations in one or other of the categories will still stand, and the works will not be disadvantaged. However, in the earlier example, losing your nomination because you thought a novelette was actually a novel, and you nominated five other novelettes, may be that one vote that makes the difference between the work getting on the ballot, and it not doing so.

So please, don’t risk wasting your nominations, and don’t risk harming the chances of works that you like, by trying to be clever.

15 thoughts on “Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should

  1. I’ve been suggesting Adventures in Time and Space for Best Related because it isn’t actually science fiction, but a non-fic drama.


      1. The main objection is that there’s an existing category (Best Dramatic Presentation; two categories, in fact) in which the work actually falls. I also strongly objected to music being nominated there, inasmuch as there are precedents (Blows Against the Empire) for such works being in Dramatic Presentation.

        1. Surely to be in Best Dramatic Presentation it would need to be actually science fiction?

          It isn’t. It’s a documentary and if a documentary can be in best dp then The Cambridge Companion to Sf can be in best novel?

          1. Farah,

            The WSFA constitution (3.3.8) defines the category as ‘… in any medium of dramatized science fiction, fantasy or related subjects…’

          2. As Mark Plummer said, DP has to be dramatized SF/F or related subjects. And you, like a lot of people including me, read “dramatized” as “fictional.” That’s where the disconnect lies: works can be dramatic without being fictional.

            A Novel is by definition fictional, and that’s why CCSF doesn’t qualify and why WSFS set up a separate category for such works.

    1. Apollo 13 was a nominee in Dramatic Presentation in 1996. Admittedly Related Work was only for books then, but there’s precedent that works do not have to be SF to be nominated as dramatic presentations.

    2. Believe it or not (and I don’t personally agree with it myself), nearly all of the precedent and history on this says that “Best Dramatic Presentation” does not have to be fictional. There’s nothing in the category that says works have to be “fictional,” only that they are “dramatized.” Non-fiction and documentaries can be “dramatic” without being fictional. Most recent precedent: Chris Garcia’s Hugo Acceptance speech, which wasn’t fictional even though it was highly dramatic.

      A Hugo Administrator would be well within his rights to disqualify a documentary nominated in Best Related Work no matter how many nominations it received, based on history and precedent.

    3. it isn’t actually science fiction, but a non-fic drama.

      This answers your question. It’s drama. Best Dramatic Presentation (long, I think).

  2. Well, there’s the Apollo 13 precedent for putting it in Best Dramatic Presentation. And it seems to me to fall under “Dramatic Presentation” more than Related, since I see less of a difference between two dramatic presentations than between a dramatic presentation and what’s traditionally been printed material.

  3. Wasn’t the ruling about “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” that audiobooks are effectively only eligible in dramatic presentation categories, not in the written fiction categories? (I mean, by virtue of being released in audio format. “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” should be eligible this year in the Best Novelette category by virtue of its print publication in 2013, if the current year’s Hugo administrators holds to their predecessors’ policy.)

    1. Yes, that was the ruling; however, administrators are not legally bound to follow their predecessors’ rulings if they think the rulings were wrong. It was at least technically possible for this year’s Administrator to rule that last year’s ruling was wrong, that audiobooks are equivalent to print publication, and that accordingly “Lady Astronaut” was already published in a prior year and not eligible at all this year. (Please understand that I do not expect this sort of ruling; I’m just saying that it’s possible and not forbidden by the rules. This year’s Lead Administrator is much too level-headed IMO to make such a decision.) I would expect to eventually see some legislative guidance on the matter of audiobooks, but that takes a minimum of two years to grind through the WSFS change process.

    2. Sorry, I screwed that up. I’m not sure anyone (except possibly the Administrator himself) knows exactly what last year’s ruling meant. However, some people have taken it to mean that Audiobooks and their written equivalents are separately eligible in the dramatic presentation and fiction categories, even if the text is word-for-word identical and there is no attempt to dramatize the reading.

      These days a lot of fiction is made available in both forms. Clarkesworld stories, for example, are published digitally and in audio. So it would be possible to have your Short Story and Dramatic Presentation: Short Form ballot both containing the same five stories.

      This year’s Administrator may decide that such a situation is silly, and disregard the nominations in one or other of the categories, in which case people doing it would have wasted some nominations.

      On the other hand, if he doesn’t accept such nominations, I don’t see how Mary’s story can be newly eligible. I do not envy this year’s Administrator at all. He’s been handed a huge can of worms.

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